Hats. Are they back? Did they ever leave? Maybe in other areas of the North, a beanie in the wintertime just seems like common sense rather than a fashion statement, but this is Wesleyan: practicality doesn’t factor into most areas of life. You don’t wear a hat because it’s cold, or because it’s sunny—you wear a hat to further your brand. Before we can figure out if hats are back, we have to figure out where they’ve been.
In the early 2000s, pre-recession, no one ever thought twice before completing their outfit with a tiny, cheerfully lopsided hat. For men, that often meant an unironic fedora, the hat of gentlemen and boy band members alike. Something about that debonair lid really complemented bleached blond tips. If you were marketed as a “bad boy,” you probably wore a beanie and skulked around the skate park or mall food court, muttering lyrics to My Chemical Romance songs. If you were an irredeemable douchebag, the natural choice for you would be a sideways tennis visor, maybe even worn upside down if you want to solidify the fact that MTV rejected you for The Real World three times in a row.
For women, your options were a bit more varied. There was the fedora, yes, often worn with an oversized, loosened private school tie (The Avril Lavigne, if you will). The newsboy cap had a brief but thrilling moment, sometimes decorated with buttons or rhinestones for that “Extra! Extra!” look. Asymmetry was the name of the game in the Paris Hilton years. You tilted your hat in line with your side bangs, offset by your asymmetrical boho skirt, but not clashing with your skinny studded belt, which did nothing to hold up your dangerously low-rise jeans. Although not technically a hat, those headbands from Claire’s with tiny top hats perched aloft get an honorable mention for being confusing and unnecessary in a particularly Bush-era way. We can’t trust the public consciousness of a society that has collectively decided that those hat-headband monstrosities were okay to sell to children.
When did hats stop? Although it’s harder to pin down, it’s safe to say that 2009 became a tenable cutoff point in hat acceptability. Perhaps it was our country’s shifting values, no longer content with the excesses of the 1% that led us to cast our hats aside in favor of a humbler, less ostentatious aesthetic. We all look a bit shorter without our hats on, and maybe we needed to be taken down a size.
As the oughts died down, new arbiters of bad taste had also stepped onto the scene. With the advent (and subsequent discontinuation) of Jersey Shore, MTV’s tacky youth fetishization had reached critical mass, and millennials began to shy away from visors, tanning beds, and other excesses associated with early 2000s culture. Brewing on the Internet, the “Men’s Rights” movement formed its incipient stages in a community of self-ascribed “nice guys” most famous for their love of fedoras and their hatred of the “friend zone.” Quickly, the general public began distancing themselves these two hat-oriented extremes: the involuntarily celibate and the conspicuously venereal.
And so hats stayed off the radar for most of the Obama administration. We wore hats when it was cold, baseball players still wore their caps, but hats had lost their moment. At least, for the time being. As with most good things, the hatless era soon came to an end in late 2015, roughly around the start of the Trump campaign. In an unusually bipartisan effort, both liberal snowflakes and Trumpsters alike had gravitated towards the hat once again. “Dad hats,” popularized by teens and liberal arts students, took the iconic baseball cap of everyone’s second favorite parent to its ironic conclusion, becoming a vehicle for catchy phrases or cutesy cross-stitching. On the other end of the political spectrum, baseball caps came to signify a very different paternal figure. Trump’s infamous “Make America Great Again” slogan assumed its most ubiquitous form on the front of a red baseball cap, usually sported by the jock doing poorly in your history class.
In a stroke of marketing genius that could only occur in late-stage capitalism, red baseball caps, and hats in general, surged in popularity. The hat came back. The same internet cretins of r/incel had shaved their neckbeards and traded their fedoras for caps; except this time, they found comfort in numbers even outside of online discussion boards. More left-leaning youths, discouraged by the current political climate, retreated back into their emo predecessors of the early 2000s—bringing back the beanie with them. It’s like a security blanket for your head.
Now hats are a commonplace occurrence both inside and outside. They’re part of a look, part of an outfit. Dad hats, beanies, and others of the ilk may not have the flash of the hats of our childhood, but they represent a more mature, understated incarnation appropriate for the melancholy of our time. These hats don’t draw attention as much as they conceal and shield us from the outside world. Hats, in their most basic usage, are a form of protection, after all. We are only as good as what we choose to wear on our heads. The next time someone claims that they’re “not just a hat rack,” think twice. Maybe they are.
Brooke Kushwaha is a member of the Class of 2020 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter as @whinefromabox.