Beijing, 16 January 2014

A few days ago, my wife was showing me a website she had discovered: “Before They Pass Away”. It’s a wonderful site, kept by the photographer Jimmy Nelson, who has travelled to many of the remoter parts of the world to document the world’s vanishing tribes. I really recommend my readers to visit it.

As I was studying his photographs of the Kalam tribe in Papua New Guinea, I was thunderstruck by the absolutely wonderful headgear they are wearing:


It rather reminds me of a headgear I’ve referred to in an earlier post, being worn by a donor depicted in a 14th century mosaic in the Kariye camii church in Istanbul:


but the Kalam tribesmen’s headgear is much, much more magnificent! For a crazy moment, I imagined myself wearing such a headgear to the office. Boy, would I look impressive! But quickly, though reluctantly, I dismissed the idea because (a) I would have difficulty passing through the doors, and (b) my staff would conclude that I had definitively lost my marbles.

This train of thought led me to start reflecting on the wearing of hats. Because I could wear a hat to the office. Hats fit through doors and my staff wouldn’t think it’s time to call in the men in white if I wore one. Yes, I could easily be a smooth operator like Humphrey Bogart (“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid”)

humphrey bogart with fedora

or Spencer Tracy

Spencer Tracy

or a little closer to home and in time, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon

belmondo and delon

I would definitely avoid the top hat, which is really too formal

top hat

or the boater, which is really too silly, as Bertie Wooster amply demonstrates (played here masterfully by Hugh Laurie to Stephen Fry’s Jeeves)


or the bowler hat, which is really too English

M.P.'s at Kings Cross

and was amply mocked by Monty Python in their Ministry of Silly Walks sketch

ministry of silly-walks

although one could argue that the 1960s TV show The Avengers gave the bowler hat and attendant umbrella a certain air of glamour.

bowler hat-the Avengers 3

I was certainly moonstruck when I was young by la belle Diana Riggs.

bowler hat-the Avengers 2

But the fact is, I wouldn’t even wear the more normal of these hats to the office. I mean, who wears a hat any more? And that’s really rather extraordinary, because there was a time – before my time, I will admit, but still not that long ago – when no man in the Western world ever went out on the street without a hat on his head. Look at this picture, taken during some demonstration in New York in the early 1900s. There isn’t a single uncovered head.

crowd 1900s

And that was how things were until at least the 1940s and even into the 1950s. Then suddenly, hats disappeared.

Many theories have been put forward for this sudden eclipse of the hat: the rapid rise of the car culture (hard to wear a hat in a car); a reaction to having had to wear helmets and other hats as soldiers during the War; a general trend towards nonconformity (wearing hats was what the older generation did, ergo …); changes in hair styles: from the short-back-and-sides to Elvis quiffs in the 1950s and long hair in the 1960s (hard to wear hats on that); trends towards more casual clothing (hats being seen as a formal piece of clothing), etc. Take your pick.

My father would have been of the generation that abandoned hats. And in fact, I don’t remember seeing a single photo of him wearing a hat, nor do I ever remember seeing him wear a hat. Except once. In London. In the early 1960s, when I started going to boarding school. I have a distinct memory of him striding ahead of me, dressed like a city gent

bowler hat-5

while I trailed behind wearing my ill-fitting school uniform – a hand-me-down from my elder brother – and sporting the only hat I’ve ever worn, if it can be called a hat, the school cap. I looked something like this youngster

school cap-1

although, at the age of 8, I was 4 years older than this little chappie.

In the meantime, regular hat-wearing has become the preserve of the religiously inclined, from Roman Catholic clergy


bishop mitre

to Christian Orthodox clergy

orthodox priests

to Orthodox, Conservative Jews, here seen in their Sabbath finest

Jewish shtreimel-2

to conservative Muslims, here seen preparing for Friday prayers

taqiyah and keffiyeh in london

to Sikhs

Sikhs in Toronto

to certain Buddhist sects.

buddhist yellow hats-2

Sad, really. Unless I convert to a hat-wearing religion, this piece of clothing, which men in the Western world have been wearing in one form or another since at least the Middle Ages, will pass me by. The best I can hope for is a baseball cap to protect me from the sun in the summer and a woolen cap to protect me from the cold in winter.

But I’m sure the hat will come back. All things go round. The current crop of film stars is now being photographed looking glamorously unshaven and wearing some form of hat

brad pitt in hat

a good sign that the fashion of hat-wearing is on the way back. But will hats come back before I too, like the Kalam tribesmen, pass away?


Kalam-PNG: http://cdn.vellance.com/beforethey/beforetheypassaway/media/images/Kalam/PNG-40.jpg [in http://www.beforethey.com/journey/indonesia—papua-new-guinea#journeytribe0%5D
Kariye Camii-theodore metochites: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/istanbul-kariye-chora-pictures/dedication-theodore-metochites-ccc-access-denied.jpg
Humphrey Bogart with fedora: http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2011/12/21/ap97060302780-d8dd656ac739b682609d28a38655b210f24ceab7-s6-c30.jpg [in http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/12/21/144064674/is-your-fedora-a-good-idea-a-gentle-suggestion-to-the-sorely-tempted%5D
Spencer Tracy with fedora: http://godcelebs.com/images/spencer-tracy-04.jpg [in http://godcelebs.com/21495-spencer-tracy.html%5D
Belmondo and Delon: http://www.taaora.fr/blog/images/visuels/0811111_visuel_le_borsalino_pour_un_look_masculin.jpg [in http://www.taaora.fr/blog/post/0811111-le-borsalino-pour-un-look-diablement-masculin%5D
Top hat: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/84/Austin_Lane_Crothers%2C_photograph_of_head_with_top_hat.jpg/490px-Austin_Lane_Crothers%2C_photograph_of_head_with_top_hat.jpg [inhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Maryland]
Boater hat-Bertie Wooster and Jeeves: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-YGhq8wnXMtA/UY0stJwimpI/AAAAAAAAAJ8/SlGfD3XHZIk/s1600/Jeeves-and-Wooster-jeeves-and-wooster-18685744-1600-1200.jpg [in http://beehyphen.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-oxford-dictionary-according-to.html%5D
Bowler hat: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-X9tsbaAXh7o/Ubd7symxp4I/AAAAAAAAIW8/k1BvoQ_bVhU/s1600/Gents%2Bto%2Baboard%2Batrain%2Bin%2Bbowler.jpg [in http://the-shoe-aristocat.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-bowler-hat-dress-like-london-city.html%5D
Ministry of silly walks: http://meandmyachilles.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/silly-walks.jpg [in http://meandmyachilles.wordpress.com/page/2/%5D
Bowler hat – the Avengers 1: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/fe/a5/ac/fea5ac074f741c05a72374daa617bc4b.jpg [in https://www.pinterest.com/pin/295830269244192278/%5D
Bowler hat-the Avengers 2: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-dtmJKl33T5c/UYdxE_o8bfI/AAAAAAAAEUo/V89FEe9dntg/s1600/peelsteed-0000.jpg [in http://allthingscoolerthanyou.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-avengers-emma-peel.html%5D
Crowd 1900s: http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2012/05/04/loc-union-square-rally-1912_custom-e543fad3d29c6228cd6da3404167efdd0c3a2e11-s40-c85.jpg [in http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/05/04/152011840/who-killed-mens-hats-think-of-a-three-letter-word-beginning-with-i%5D
City gent: http://i34.tinypic.com/ivhiwx.jpg [in http://www.askandyaboutclothes.com/forum/showthread.php?99284-An-umbrella/page3%5D
School cap: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2010/04/27/article-0-09538FC5000005DC-121_468x676.jpg [in http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1269252/Michael-Buerk-My-father-bigamist-lied-life.html%5D
Cardinals: http://www.capuanaweb.insulareport.it/media/k2/items/cache/c230427c303c0684b5582388f5d0dfd7_XL.jpg
Bishop mitre:  http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-XI3D3v_8IJg/TYXm5n62-bI/AAAAAAAARGQ/NSKPcaCTx4w/s1600/sheen%2Bprecious%2Bmitre.JPG [in http://crosswordcorner.blogspot.com/2013/05/wednesday-may-23-2013-doug-peterson.html%5D
Orthodox priests: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01798/bethlehem-priests_1798076i.jpg [in http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/8243817/Orthodox-Christians-celebrate-Epiphany.html?image=15%5D
Jewish shreimel-2: http://www.vosizneias.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/jewish-walkin-wili.jpg [in http://www.vosizneias.com/151918/2014/01/10/manchester-england-uks-largest-eruv-opens-in-greater-manchester/%5D
Taqiyah and keffiyeh in London: http://www.beautifulmosque.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/east-london-mosque-uk-02.jpg [in http://www.beautifulmosque.com/east-london-mosque-united-kingdom/%5D
Sikhs in Toronto: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/98/Sikhs_on_the_move!.jpg [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikh%5D
Buddhist yellow hats-2: http://mosaicofhope.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/exiled-tibetan-buddhist-monks.jpg [in http://mosaicofhope.net/2013/02/12/happy-lunar-new-year/%5D
Brad Pitt in hat: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2012/10/26/article-2223410-01776062000004B0-721_634x420.jpg [in http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2223410/Jason-Corkovic-Gangster-claims-hoodie-ban-violates-human-rights.html%5D

Published by


I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

4 thoughts on “I’LL NEVER WEAR A HAT …”

  1. Great post…you may consider looking at how hats have instead become high fashion for ladies with the weirdest creations costing an arm and a leg and worn at the oddest events..


  2. Subcultures still regard the hat with great honor.

    For example: the bike courier sub-culture has the “courier cap” which comes in every style/colour imaginable and is a sign of prestige for couriers; to show they aren’t some shmuck on a 10-speed.

    Hats still exist in the fringes, waiting for the right moment to appear.

    As well I counted atleast two uncovered heads from your 1900’s photo, I am sure I can find more if I tried. (hint: look at the front row area).

    Good read, especially liked the photo from New Guinea.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.