April 8, 2014

Hats Off to Fashion

by Christine Kirkham, Coordinator, Montana Digital Newspaper Project

There is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes)

Pharrell with hat creased "fore and aft" (eonline.com)
Pharrell with hat creased "fore and aft" (eonline.com)
Like millions of others, I enjoyed the 2014 Grammy Awards, including the appearance of singer Pharrell (fa-RELL) wearing his signature headgear.

Within days of the broadcast, I happened to be examining a 1910 newspaper supplement*, The Bitterroot Valley Illustrated, when an advertisement caused me to do a double-take.

Detail, Welpton's menswear ad, The Bitterroot Valley Illustrated, May 1910
Detail, Welpton's menswear
ad, The Bitterroot Valley
, May 1910
According to the National Park Service, this hat style was originally called “Alpine” and became part of the official ranger uniform in 1912. Also referred to as a "Smokey the Bear" hat, its modern-day incarnation rises a full 8 inches above the brim. Manufactured by Vivienne Westwood, it is available in seven colors and retails for $180. (Don't get your hopes up; the item is sold out.)

Like Pharrell and other 2014 "rangers," the 1912 wearer was free to mold the top into any shape he desired.

"[The hats] were usually creased fore and aft, but there were no regulations on the subject and it was left to the ranger to do whatever styling he wished." (Badges and Uniform Ornamentation of the National Park Service.)

* A supplement to the Hamilton-based Western News, the Illustrated was a lavish 50-page homage to the Bitterroot Valley, touting the region's abundant timber, fruit, and other riches. This and other digitized Montana special editions will soon be available on Chronicling America.