The Mythology of the Hat

A hat covers our crown, the highest chakra and summit of our selves. It broadcasts who we are, or who we want to tell people we are. When we wear it in deference to a god or team, the message to the world is direct, as on a nun or Yankee. Or it’s symbolism may be associative. The meaning of a chequered keffiyeh can change from an Arab nationalist in Palestine to a hipster in Brooklyn.

It can cloister one from the outside world. It creates anonymity as it hides the physical face; or on a deeper level, one’s individuality, such as the cap of a nurse’s uniform, baseball team, or flight attendant. In a hat, the ego self now represents a unit of many.

Contrarily, a hat may point to personality. A cowboy’s stetson connotes his unyielding individualism and roaming spirit as he sets off on the hero’s journey. A woman in a wide brim has an air of worldly mystique and inaccessibility. A possessor of many hats may be a possessor of many personalities. The suicide of hat enthusiast Isabella Blow shocked-how could a woman with such spirited headwear suffer melancholia?

A hat can signify ideas, which spring forth from just beneath it. An old hat is an old idea. To wear a lot of hats indicates many talents or skills. To keep something under your hat is to store a secret in the dark recesses of your mind. In Meyrink’s novel the Golem, the protagonist takes on thoughts and experiences of another man whose hat he has put on by mistake.

Hats give us agency in an otherwise volatile, ego-attacking world. When we wear our hat, the shield is up and sense of self intact.

Some hats allude to the phallus, such as the Phrygian cap or KKK hat. The mere wearing of a hat may scandalize and we take it off as a sign of respect. Perhaps the feminine answer to such an offense was Schiaparelli’s high heeled shoe hat, that dared to take a symbol for the female sex organ and quite literally turn it on its head.

Not to be overlooked is the practical necessity of a hat-to shield from the elements or danger. Absractly, they protect us from judgement, as we wear them to signal who we are before others can decide for themselves. With this in mind, it stands that hats at once protect us from the physical world and contain us to our own psychic condition of self-defined, ego-driven identity.

Isabella Blow by Mario Testino

 

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