Times Past: A hat for every occasion

  • “Coat racks in churches, funeral parlors and most public gathering places, like the Grange Hall, always had a shelf or two on top for men’s hats — sometimes a row of hooks on which to hang them,” says Janet Keyes in today’s memoir. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

  • KEYES

Published: 9/29/2017 2:42:24 PM

Like all men of his generation, my dad wore felt hats. There was a good hat that he saved for weddings, funerals, Grange meetings, town meetings, family reunions and church. That hat was carefully kept on a top shelf in the bedroom closet, and was dutifully trotted out for dress-up occasions.

I don’t remember if there was a name for those standard, regular felt hats that every man wore. I do know that coat racks in churches, funeral parlors and most public gathering places, like the Grange Hall, always had a shelf or two on top for men’s hats — sometimes a row of hooks on which to hang them. Men wore those hats year-round, and even the most etiquette-challenged men knew enough to remove their hats as soon as they entered any building.

I cannot remember seeing my dad hatless outdoors on more than a few occasions. Mostly it was for photographs at family reunions with outdoor picnics. Oh, yes. When we lived in Guilford, Vt., Dad was hatless when our family went swimming in the Green River. His thick and wavy dark hair was impressive. What a shame he wore the hat all the time.

Dad was not unique. A quick perusal of old movies from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s will show most men wearing those ubiquitous felt hats. However, my dad’s “real” hat was the barn hat he wore seven days a week. This one may have previously been the “good hat,” but I have no memory of that.

When he was not in the house, the barn hat was always on his head, whether he was milking cows, cleaning stables, feeding out hay and grain and ensilage or working outside. He even wore it on very hot summer days, while wearing a straw hat only for outdoor work on those days.

Dad’s barn hat was kept on a hook in the back room, which served as the entryway into the kitchen in every house he ever inhabited. I don’t think that hat ever came into the house. Like the good hat, the barn hat was brown felt, but there the resemblance ended. The barn hat had old sweat stains and various spots that may have included remnants of fly specks, bovine saliva, manure spatters and maybe a little of the black grease stains he got on his hands when he did maintenance on tractors and farm implements.

Also, the barn hat usually had a few shreds of dirty gray cobwebs, the kind often found in the dusty corners of calf stables and storage sheds. It somehow managed to smell a little bit like the tobacco juice produced in abundance, because Dad would chew lots of Beechnut Chewing Tobacco in the barn and in his truck, where he never allowed smoking.

My dad’s barn hat totally reflected every element of his day-to-day reality outside the house. Perhaps that is why it is so memorable to me.


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