By Felicity Tyler-Moore

Is my hat big enough? It’s taken women decades to conquer their insecurities about things like body image and shoe choices, but there’s one secret terror that has yet to be conquered. Not just confined to the Kentucky Derby, a fear of ho-hum haberdashery threatens to weaken even grade school-era social bonds, and can affect your chances for upward mobility in the workplace. “I don’t even wear a hat,” you say. Good for you, but not everyone is that confident…or cavalier. Let’s take a closer look at this bee(ware) in your bonnet.

While it’s true that people are often judged by the height and circumference of their hats, a new report suggests that you should pay close attention to what your hat is saying about you —especially behind your back.  In a recent study at Louisville Millinery-Polytechnic, 4,000 part time students between the ages of 24 and 78 were polled on their attitude towards the hats they wear, when, wheresa, and why they wear them.  Shown slow motion clips of other women wearing hats, participants were asked to rate the wearer using a scale of 1-95 on the following factors:

- Leadership

- Quality

- Style

- Grace

- Elegance

- Strength of Will

- Social Dominance

- Parenting Skill

- Upward Mobility

Only 12% of viewers rated small-hatters any different than people too meek, scared or frightened to wear hats at all.  The remaining majority revealed a correlation between hat circumference and social potency, with a surprising view that hat height had an inverse projection towards upward mobility. Contrary to views held by some naive hat owners polled, taller hats did not suggest to viewers greater corporate potential, in fact the opposite was true. “Tall hats are very much about overcompensation,” several participants wrote, “but wide hats imply social dominance and greater peer-reach.” This suggests that the wearer is confident enough to make bold fashion choices, and that potential rivals had better make way and give the wearer a wide berth.

Using dial testing a hat with a diameter of between 3 and 4 feet made a stronger impression than narrower (round) hats with smaller radii. “It’s only natural that a bold hat implies a confident woman,” adds Professor Simon Whitehead, “while taller ‘aspirational’ hats are just over-reaching, as well as insincere and ‘high-faluting’.”

The findings have larger implications outside of academic settings as well. An informal poll of business leaders in the Lexington area confirmed similar attitudes.  Jennifer Sisters, owner of downtown notions and drygoods shop, “Sisters of Shappo”, offered her insight. “It’s about wide shapes, but not tall shapes. Conical hats are absurd, but pie-plate and ovoids are strong power statements. Everyone’s got one and they’ve got to be big to make a statement.” Others noted now familiar trends. Fabrice Cloche of “Hats Off of Main Street”, (known for their Fruit-Knit (TM) and TumbleWide (TM) lines), adds  “Waxed paper hats are out and organic textiles are in. Organic fabrics that employ DayGlo inorganic colors are good individual choices that everyone should consider, particularly synthetic materials dyed in bright colors that are found in nature . Think cardinal reds and robins egg blues, aspen greens, and radium yellows…but not pink. “Pink can be too childish on tall women.” adds Sisters, “and definitely no sequins. Sequins are vintage, and vintage reads shy.”  

Opinions on the exact impact of different hats are wide-ranging, but everyone in the study agrees that if you’ve only got one hat, go big, or you might as well go bare-headed. How many do YOU have, and what do they say about you? And if you don’t know, you’d better find out. Ask your real friends what image your hats are projecting for you. If your friends won’t tell you, or don’t want to be seen with you, it’s time to get a new hat.

A bigger one.