Abraham Lincoln was one of our most famous national hat-wearers, and many pictures of him show him wearing his ever-present stovepipe hat. A stovepipe is a top hat that takes its nickname from the vent pipe of a cast iron stove, and is 7-8” with straight sides. This type of top hat was more popular in the early 1800s than at the time Lincoln took office, something that may have added to his “backwoods,” Kentucky, log cabin persona. It certainly added to his height! Lincoln was our tallest President at 6’4” – add 7” to that, and you get an intimidating 7’1”. In the later Victorian era, stylish top hats were closer to 6” tall, with tapered sides. Today, most hover around the 5” mark (set in the 1920s).
Interestingly enough, George Washington was also portrayed wearing hats (generally a tricorn, or three-cornered, hat), as have many of our presidents, but no one has been tied to a hat the way Lincoln has. For both men, and for everyone up until the 20th century, hats weren’t just a fashion statement – they were a don’t-leave-home-without-it necessity. You would risk rejection socially if you ventured outside without a hat. For men, hats were worn everywhere outside, and occasionally inside (depending on the situation). For women, the rules weren’t as strict, and they could wear hats both outside and in for most situations.
The dawn of the 20th century saw changes in hat wearing, as “soft” hats like fedoras, panamas and Gatsby caps became popular, and the top hat of the Victorian era was relegated to weddings and other formal events. After that, it only took several more decades for presidents to break with hat tradition. Rumor was that JFK became the first to attend his inauguration without wearing a top hat, though he actually did (and took it off as he spoke). His predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, changed it up a little by wearing a homburg rather than a top hat to his inauguration (however he wore a top hat to Kennedy’s). It was Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, who broke with tradition and wore no hat at all at his inaugurations. Changes in hairstyles, hygiene and transportation, not to mention the trend towards more casual attire, are blamed for the decline in hat wearing.
You can see turn-of-the-century hats, and other period clothing and accoutrements in our new exhibit, Dressing Downtown (in the Rosson House through October), and our upcoming exhibit, Details (opening March 22nd in the Stevens-Haustgen Bungalow). Sign up for a special Handcrafted tour of Watson’s Hat Shop in the West Valley to see antique hat making equipment in action, and try them out for yourself! Refreshments will be provided.
Picture above: The hat Abraham Lincoln wore to the Ford Theatre on April 14, 1865, now a part of the Smithsonian collection.
Ad: Goldberg’s store ad, Arizona Republican, September 16, 1914.