Hats as Plot Points

This evening, we went to the fabulous Hideout to see Studs’ Place Part 2. For those of you unfamiliar with the Studs’ Place, it was a TV show starring Studs Terkel, famous Chicago oral historian) that ran sporadically from 1949-1951. It was mostly improvised, based on a one pager with some plot points, and featured other notable Chicagoans like Win Stracke, who would later co-found the Old Town School of Folk Music.

In this episode, Grace is preparing to give a speech at the Women’s Booster luncheon. However, her friends find out that a rival on the committee is going to foil her speech because Grace doesn’t care about her appearance and will wear something tired and old fashioned. So her friends decide that the obvious solution is to convince Grace to buy a new hat. They scheme and even end up buying the hat for her so she’d have to wear it at the luncheon.
Absolutely charming. And while it seems a little odd for the plot to revolve around hats, it was still a time when hats were a central part of the wardrobe (though it is telling that Grace comments that she doesn’t want to buy a hat since she’d only wear it once or twice a year).
However, plots involving hats were not totally singular.  There is a great P.G. Wodehouse story called “the Amazing Hat Mystery” which describes the foibles of two young bachelors when their hats change. Engagements and friendships are broken; it’s a real catastrophe! Of course, PG Wodehouse was making rather fun of these two gentlemen and the society that puts such importance into a fashion item. In both cases, hats are used to discuss trivial concerns that society put on people; after all, does it really matter what Grace wears to the luncheon?
There are a lot of presently told stories that feature items of clothing, often shoes, such as “Cinderella,” “Red Shoes”, or the entire outfit like the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” There are of course the tween movies that show the female lead finally sprucing herself up like She’s All That or Ten Things I Hate About You. But hats as plots seem to have disappeared from our story lexicon, probably related to the fact that hats have diminished in significance in our present day.  I’ll keep my ears and eyes out for more stories concerning hats. Or if I have to, I may just have to make some more.

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