The Ascendancy of the Knitted Hat

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73_078254Funny the way some fashion trends creep up on you. At least this one has only impressed me during New York City’s unusually frigid winter weather so far this year. I’ve recognized its signs before, but now it looks as if it’s approaching the unmistakable. (Had I been anywhere in Florida or farther south in Australia, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it.)

I’m talking, of course, about the knitted hat, sometimes referred to as a stocking cap. (It’s explicitly not a yarmulke, which my downstairs neighbor jokingly complimented me on earlier today when he saw me in one of my knitted toppings.)

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Men and women alike seem to prefer the knitted hat for its ability to be pulled tightly over the crown and relatively low on the forehead, although some wearers push the hat farther back for that rakish effect. Most of the knitted hats fit snugly, but there are those made with more material that falls loosely at the back and are therefore helpful when it comes to accommodating dreads.

Many hats have enough material for folding back into a brim and pulling farther down over the ears during truly chilly weather. Most are solid neutral colors, although they’re sometimes patterned. Incidentally, they’re not all knitted. There are cloth versions.

The-Newest-Knitting-Wool-Men-s-Hats-BBOY-hip-hop-Bars-Caps-Fashion-Lovers-Hat-MulticolorNor are they all made of natural fibers. Many are acrylic and have given me a new attitude towards acrylics. Perhaps I’m wrong about this, but I’ve always assumed acrylics don’t provide the warmth natural fibers do. So I’ve avoided them.

But I’ve decided any knitted hat-due to its hug-the-scalp attributes-has the ability to retain warmth. Am I making this up? Is it really so? I can’t say. I can say I hear people issuing the same quote about a large percentage of body heat escaping through the head. Where the (unscientific?) info originated is never mentioned. So is there proof? I only know I’ve long believed that in cold weather heavy overcoats aren’t absolutely required but hats and scarves are. They gallantly serve the purpose.

Other headgear hasn’t entirely disappeared, needless to say. Well, some have been off the chapeau radar for quite a while. The fedora practically needs a memorial service. Look at any photograph of men shivering in Great Depression cold, and you see them in fedoras. (Or, failing that, caps.) Maybe they couldn’t afford a 15-cent meal, but they clung to what remained of their dignity in a fedora that eventually was instrumental in popularizing the phrase “hat-in-hand.”

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Other head furnishings do show up these days in greater-but not great-number. Both men and woman sport baseball caps with the bills pointed in different directions. They continue to use earmuffs but not usually the puffy sort. You see some people in hats with padded flaps or flaps that have some kind of string hanging from for a Pippi Longstocking effect. Hoodies are abundant, but often there’s a knitted hat under the hoodie.

imagesJust the other day, I did spot a man of a certain grizzled age in a red beret, which is more than you can say about Parisians. The only berets you see in Paris are hanging in kiosks catering to tourists.

Come to think of it, berets used to be sold on all the NYC street vendors’ carts, but they’ve been missing more recently. The knitted hat has superseded them. They’re cheap, too. (Needless to say, acrylics are generally less expensive.) Cheap means easily replaced, which they apparently have to be. I’ve seen lost knitted hats on many local streets and subway staircases.

Not that knitted hats can’t be found in higher fashion. Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren market them. Uniqlo does a knitted hat that features “Heattech technology,” whatever that is. (Maybe the Uniqlo folks know the accurate percentage for heat leaving the head. They must know something, since the claim is they sold 100 million Heattech units in 2011.)

About a week ago, I was on the subway standing by a seated woman knitting a hat of mottled colors. She was going at so rapid a rate that I figured if her ride was long enough, she might have been turning out one per trip. And since knitted hats are the rage now, knitting them as gifts looks to be a worthwhile undertaking. For those who know how to knit, that is. If you don’t, Martha Stewart can show you the way. She’s got a website devoted to the activity, which isn’t surprising, is it?

Statistics on the sales of knitted hats aren’t easy to come by-in part because they’re not separated from all hat sales. Still, a recent Highbeam Business overview includes this statement: “According to industry experts, the hat market more than doubled in the first decade of the twenty-first century.”

There is one kind of knitted hat that has all but disappeared. The one with pom-poms. They’re apparently considered too frivolous for this minimalist moment in time.