Monday, March 4, 2013

Stetson Hats (1940-1942)

Good morning!

It's Monday, again, somehow! These truncated every-other-weekends of mine always make Monday a startling work day to wake up to-- I was just at work Sunday afternoon! Luckily, the phone reference shift yesterday was calm-seas-to-doldrums, as far as weird questions, and I was able to while away an hour or two trawling Google books for goodies. I've got a couple more set up for you this week, but let's start with the delicious dish-and-take of Stetson hat ads in the early 1940's.

Take a look:

I have an unnatural soft spot for thirties' and forties' breakfast scenes like this. If you were a young chorine or man about town with a yen for stardom in that era of Hollywood, I'm telling you, prepare a "drinking coffee, buttering toast, and verbally sparring" routine for your studio audition, because if there's one thing in every drama or romance or comedy movie of that time, it's a cutesy of-the-morning scene. This is where plotlines are hatched, misunderstanding that fuel the storyline are begun, and incidents of the night past are hashed out...not to mention, the latest in china and kitchen finery are paraded in front of hungry depression and wartime era audiences. The most famous instance I can think of is actually in a gangster flick...the infamous Mae Murray/James Cagney grapefruit scene from The Public Enemy.There's a scene in Woman of the Year where Hepburn tries to cook Tracy breakfast (this does not go well, but is adorable)...her character speaks five languages but can't percolate a decent cup of coffee! Trust me, next time you're watching TCM and it's not a period picture or a western (and sometimes even in those genres!), you're going to see some folks eating breakfast and either bitterly or blithely bickering. It's sweet.

In this breakfast scene, the pretty newlywed in her pink satin dress gown (that quilted embroidered collar! Those snappy princess sleeves!) harangues her husband with reference to the state of his hat wear. "Now what have you been up to, you cute little nit wit?" asks the man (don't get upset, it's perfectly cute he's called her a nitwit, and if Clark Gable wanted to say the same to me across a bowl of cornflakes in 1940, believe me, I would not be put out). "Dear, I've just been wondering whether a five-hat woman and a one-hat man can ever be happy together," the brunette responds, holding said unique wardrobe item in her right hand.

What follows? A frank discussion of the state of the mister's hat. Take a look.

Are you ever bowled over by how much reading old time ads expected the average magazine flipper to go through? While the color photo at top would have had my attention, to fully receive the message of this Stetson ad, you've got about a page of dialogue to get through. And that's assuming you aren't too absorbed in the feature you were reading on Kikuyu tribes in Kenya or latest debutante fashions or a dog that walk on its hind legs to stop and actually read the ad! Outside of pharmaceutical spreads with their 1,000,000 side effects and legally mandated disclosures, can you think of a modern ad that would be so wordy? I can't off the top of my (hatless) head.

Here's another from the "married man and wife having a conversation about hats" ad set. I love how unrealistic the shadow of the pretty new secretary behing the door is. Um, does she type like that? Is she waving her wet nails from a just applied coat of polish? Is she throwing her hands up in disgust at being beguiled by the complicated interoffice phone system? I really don't know! Reminds me of some kind of Asian shadow puppetry horror. DON'T GO OUT INTO RECEPTION, HUBBY. STAY IN YOUR OFFICE! She's got knives for teeth!

Again, the dialogue is absolutely worth noting. Scene 4: Wife: A Stetson! Got a raise and didn't tell? Hubby: Aw shucks, that glamour lid only set me back five bucks. (please, PLEASE let's endeavor to talk more like this). $5 in 1940 money is $80.76 in today's money. I know that's hard to believe, but that's what the inflation calculator says! That glamour lid is expensive, son!

The colors in this watercolor illustration are actually taking my human life. I LOVE THEM, I LOVE THEM. That puce colored dressing gown on the longnecked Sue, the French décor, Ann on the left's pink gloves, envelope clutch, AMAZING HAT, and fur wrap...people, this is everywhere I want to be. Sue, in all generosity, offers that if she spends less money on clothes, her husband Jim can spend more. As a hat on man in the street in 1940 was de rigeur, an absolute fashion must-have, I can see where it would be important to have a halfway decent one to cover your head! From a distance of eighty years, it's hard to wrap my mind around the social contract of public dress-- the "you absolutely can't go out in the street without x, y, z"-- but I secretly wish we could go back to a slightly more uniform time. So shoot me.

Do you see Ann's brown gloves and hat, her green with fur collar jacket? I told you, I want to BE in this ad.

Below, Tom, Sue, and Andy (Sue was a popular name that year!) discuss the merits of not throwing ones hat in the air at the end of a particularly stirring football game. And now that I know they cost $80 a piece, I don't blame them! True sports fans should wear a throwaway hat to the game, just to make sure they're not seen as gauche by not participating in this post-game ritual. Do you see the hint of what Sue is wearing? I think she even has a leopard print hand muff to carry, and that makes me very jealous indeed.

Just the same as today, "carefully studied casualness" was a concern for men of the 1940's. You want to look amazing, but not like you spent two hours trying to figure out how to look amazing (I struggle with this daily). I think the guy in the upper right hand corner looks ridiculous, but the other gents are definitely sporting an Errol Flynn or David Niven like quality of being effortlessly debonair. "The nonchalance is blocked in" is a hilarious line.

Last but not least, the type of men who wear Stetson's "Ten Million Dollar Hat":

Look at the guy on the lower left...the Robert Taylor turtleneck and checked sports jacket, along with the green fedora, lets you know this man is a Hollywood star. I could go for either that guy or the "café society" dandy in the lower right. They all look cute as a button, actually... note the subtle differences in the blocking and brims of their hats, not to mention the clothes they pair them with.

So what do you think? Are you ready to run out and insist that your husband or significant other buy a Fedora? Which style would suit either you or the man in your life the best? Can you believe a good quality hat cost eighty dollars back in the day? I'm still a little sticker shocked over that one. Had any run ins with gorgeous or handsome headwear lately? Let's talk!

That's all for today; more vintage clips tomorrow! See you then.


  1. Yay for hats! This post reminds me that Steeplechase is coming up in May and I need to get busy finding a hat! My favorite ad is the first one...I have a Toastmaster toaster exactly like the one on that fancy breakfast table. Sadly, I do not have a killer pink satin dressing gown like that one.

    1. That's so neat about your toaster! UGH! I want that whole kitchen spread, exactly as is, INCLUDING the pink dressing gown.

      Re: Steeplechase: That's only two months away! I need to start looking for a hat NOW!

  2. I so identify with the wives. My husband is not a clothes horse and I have to tell him his clothes are worn out and should be replaced.

    I think the shadow secretary is holding a compact mirror in one hand and doing some cosmetic maneuver with the other hand, but that's just a guess!

    P.S.--My husband bought a gray wool fedora a few months ago of his own volition. And it looks great.

    1. Haha, good work on your mister buying a hat without having to be told! And I think you're right about the shadow secretary woman...she's making that exact arm formation, but I don't see the compact! I'm still holding out hope that she's a Yūrei !

  3. I wish men would wear more hats, but the clothes must match! You can't just wear a trilby with any old rag. ;)

    1. Oh LORD, I need to a whole new post on "What You Wear With a Hat". I feel like it doesn't have to be exactly, completely, 100% period authentic, but for the love of Mike, no ill-fitting t-shirts, baggy jeans, and TRILBIES, please! I've seen hats misworn way more than I've seen them worn correctly, and it's no good!

  4. Did Advertising Copy Husband REALLY just call her "a cute little nit-wit?" REALLY?

    This post cracks me up because Keith randomly came home with a Stetson from HatWRKS last month! I kid you not! He went in and told the proprietress, "I'm looking for an entry level hat." But he left with a decidedly more executive option: The Stetson Saxon in Cordova brown.

    He got a lesson in felt materials, too: Wool felt is entry level, rabbit felt is moderately luxurious, and beaver felt is the creme de la creme. Who knew? Not me! Beaver felt. heh.

    Best of all, DOLLY PARTON'S PERSONAL DRESSMAKER dropped by the shop while he was there. As far as I was concerned, this was my far the most interesting thing about his visit to HatWRKS.

    So no, I haven't had to insist that he buy swanky headwear. :) But my darling Texan has worn his Stetson in public just ONCE since he bought it. I think I'm going to have to insist he wear it more often!

    1. Bully for Keith! That place and Goorin Bros. Hatmakers downtown are both supposed to be tops. I do wish there was a similar ladies' milliners' shop in town with delicate, frou-frou spring hats like the icing on a wedding cake, but if wishes were fishes...

  5. Man alive, I wish that everyone still wore hats! The Mister wears them every day. I do admit to worrying about the future of the one couple's marriage - the one where the guy got a new secretary. I've read over and over in the lady's magazines that if all of a sudden, your Mom starts wearing new clothes or working out, he's trying to impress a new lady on the side. I'd say a hat counts too. Still, we can hope that the secretary really does have teeth of knives and that the couple will live happily ever after.

    1. Ha! See, your guy wears them *right*, which is an even rarer sight than a man wearing a hat at all! I was thinking of how you could go into any mall two or three years ago and see a guy in a blue-satin-with-flaming-dice oversized short sleeved shirt, oversized, JNCO style jeans with wallet chain, AND A FEDORA, and that's just doing it all the wrong way. Again, we need to put together a tutorial.

      I worry for the lady in the brown hat, too! But as I said before, that secretary is probably a vengeful Japanese ghost, it's no big.

  6. See Mr. "Cafe Society" in the last ad? I call it the Harry Truman. G-pa wore his hat blocked like that..He was a big old railroader and wore Osh Kosh B'gosh overalls, summer weight, year 'round. We spent the summer of '73 watching the Watergate hearings and playing cribbage. I associated Sam Ervin and G-pa with the Powers of Good, so it was a surprise to me when G-ma pulled me aside and told me that G-pa had voted for Nixon.
    She was a hard core, shell-backed Democrat and once, as a young married, was left behind by her (Repub) father-in-law when they loaded up to go to the she rode a bicycle I don't know how many miles to town to cancel his vote. It wouldn't surprise me if she was trying to bring my Idol down a peg or two for voting Republican.

    1. I love the story of your grandmother bicycling to town JUST TO SPITE her father-in-law's unpatriotic act of denying her the right to vote (or at least a ride to the place where the voting was happening!) based on partisan prejudice. For shame, father in law! For shame!

      Your grandpa sounds like an all right guy. I love the overalls (my great-grandaddy was the same! After he retired from the truck lines, he had two wardrobe options: work overalls, and "good" overalls, all year round!) and the hat. You must've been able to forgive him one transgression. Who knew Nixon was going to be NIXON?

  7. I always wonder whether ADD and shortened attention spans in general are a question of expectations. No one even assumes people will be able to pay attention for very long any more. I think we've simultaneously been conditioned and talked down to until we really believe we can't concentrate and then...we can't.

    Anyway, totally love breakfast scenes in film and advertising. Just watched a movie called Her Night of Romance this weekend with Ronald Colman and Constance Talmadge. There's a breakfast scene where Ronald Colman's butler has very adorably laid out everything just. so. Unfortunately for Ron and Connie, it means someone knows they spent the night alone together in the same house! Eeeek.



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