The Idle Hen’s new series entitled Polite Professions is a celebration of people whose work makes the world a more civilised place. The first installment is dedicated to the makers and purveyors of hats.
Hatmaking is truly a genteel occupation. The milliner produces a hat, a unique artefact and a thing of beauty in itself. Added to that is the fact that a hat is inherently polite, brimming with opportunities to demonstrate good manners. Etiquette books suggest a gentleman should tip his cap to female acquaintances (including his wife) he meets while out and about. He may also lift his hat when meeting other gentlemen. While many of these points of etiquette may safely be disregarded as classist relics, one basic rule should remain: take your hat off indoors. There’s no excuse for sporting a fedora at the table.
The hatmaker suffers for his art. Historically, hatters worked with mercury in order to treat fur for felt hats. Exposure to mercury often left hatters with symptoms such as delirium, hallucinations and excitability, also known as erethism or mad hatter syndrome. I’d imagine there’s less mercury involved in the process today, but modern hatmakers face other challenges including mass production and, crucially, a general tendency towards hatlessness in the population at large.
So let us celebrate these craftsmen, who can size up a head from twenty paces and who add extra elegance and panache to life with every headpiece they create.