As you are no doubt aware, today is National Hat Day, a 24hr stretch during which we can all come together to celebrate headwear with gay abandon and exchange berets, homburgs, bonnets and sombreros with our nearest and dearest. The real Christmas Day. The idea was simply for me to share with you a very funny letter of complaint from George Bernard Shaw, written after an encounter with an overextravagant hat; however, I have literally no self control—seriously, it’s a problem!—and ended up adding a few other hat-related letters to what is now a list, at the bottom of which is Shaw’s corker.
It’s incredible to think that just days ago I did the same with birds. I challenge you to show me another newsletter that reaches such heights.
Until next time. (Also, subscribe if you haven’t already.)
Please, Mr. President, wear a hat, anybody’s hat.
William J. McKenna, Vice President of the Hat Corporation of America | Letter to US President John F. Kennedy, 9 March 1962
Such a beautiful hat—I don’t know how any man could forsake such [a] hat, all the more so since he had scarcely taken its virginity. It is a homburg, made of a solid, slightly furry felt (I think the term is brushed), a subtle shade of green olive on its way to becoming black olive, with a fancy Petersham band round it and a feather incident—and a lining of turquoise blue. Dunn’s, Piccadilly. I long to wear it myself. It is only a trifle too large for me, and immensely becoming. But I can’t persuade Valentine [Ackland] to agree, she says it would make me conspicuous. What else does she suppose I want a hat to do? What other purpose has a hat? But there it is, I am too kind to wear a hat that would even incidentally associate her with conspicuity; and the gentleman won’t reclaim it, I despair of him now. Unless he has had a motor accident and only when consciousness returns to him will he cry out, My hat, where is my hat? And by that time they will have mislaid Valentine’s card, and he will be carried onto a Jet airliner on a stretcher and never see his hat again. If he hasn’t reclaimed it before Christmas, would you like it? It is a very handsome hat.
Sylvia Townsend Warner | Letter to George Plank, 12 Sep 1962 | Letters Of Sylvia Townsend Warner
My dear Mayor,
I stole your hat. I like your hat. I shall keep your hat. Whenever I look inside it I shall think of you and your excellent sherry, and of the town of Cambridge. I take off your hat to you.
H. G. Wells | Letter to the Mayor of Cambridge, Ernest Saville Peck, Oct 1938
I had no hat. Bought one for 7/11 at a shop in Oxford Street: green felt: the wrong coloured ribbon: all a flop like a pancake in midair. Even I thought I looked odd. But I wanted to see what happens among real women if one of them looks like a pancake in mid air. In came the dashing vermeil-tinctured red-stopper-bottle-looking Mrs Edwin Montagu. She stared. She positively deplored me. Then hid a smile. Looked again.
Thought Ah what a tragedy! Liked me even as she pitied. Overheard my flirting. Was puzzled. Finally conquered. You see, women can’t hold out against this kind of flagrant disavowal of all womanliness. They open their arms as to a flayed bird in a blast: whereas, the Marys of this world, with every feather in place, are pecked, stoned, often die, every feather stained with blood-at the bottom of the cage.
Virignia Woolf | Letter to Vita Sackville West, 12 Mar 1928 | Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume 3
In July of 1905, after attending a performance of Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, renowned playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw wrote the following letter of complaint to The Times.
On Saturday night I went to the Opera. I wore the costume imposed on me by the regulations of the house. I fully recognise the advantage of those regulations. Evening dress is cheap, simple, durable, prevents rivalry and extravagance on the part of male leaders of fashion, annihilates class distinctions and gives men who are poor and doubtful of their social position (that is, the great majority of men) a sense of security and satisfaction that no clothes of their own choosing could confer, besides saving a whole sex the trouble of considering what they should wear on state occasions.
Now let me describe what actually happened to me at the Opera. Not only was I in evening dress by compulsion, but I voluntarily added many graces of conduct as to which the management made no stipulation whatever. I was in my seat in time for the first chord of the overture. I did not chatter during the music nor raise my voice when the Opera was too loud for normal conversation. I did not get up and go out when the statue music began. My language was fairly moderate considering the number and nature of the improvements on Mozart volunteered by Signor Caruso, and the respectful ignorance of dramatic points of the score exhibited by the conductor and stage manager — if there is such a functionary at Covent Garden. In short, my behaviour was exemplary.
At 9 o'clock (the Opera began at 8) a lady came in and sat down very conspicuously in my line of sight. She remained there until the beginning of the last act. I do not complain of her coming late and going early; on the contrary, I wish she had come later and gone earlier. For this lady, who had very black hair, had stuck over her right ear the pitiable corpse of a large white bird, which looked exactly if someone had killed it by stamping on the beast, and then nailed it to the lady's temple, which was presumably of sufficient solidity to bear the operation. I am not, I hope, a morbidly squeamish person; but the spectacle sickened me. I presume that if I had presented myself at the doors with a dead snake round my neck, a collection of black beetles pinned to my shirtfront, and a grouse in my hair, I should have been refused admission. Why, then is a woman to be allowed to commit such a public outrage? Had the lady been refused admission, as she should have been, she would have soundly rated the tradesman who imposed the disgusting headdress on her under the false pretence that 'the best people' wear such things, and withdrawn her custom from him; and thus the root of the evil would be struck at; for your fashionable woman generally allows herself to be dressed according to the taste of a person who she would not let sit down in her presence. I once, in Drury Lane Theatre, sat behind a matinee hat decorated with the two wings of a seagull, artificially reddened at the joints so as to produce the illusion of being freshly plucked from a live bird. But even that lady stopped short of a whole seagull. Both ladies were evidently regarded by their neighbours as ridiculous and vulgar; but that is hardly enough when the offence is one which produces a sensation of physical sickness in persons of normal human sensibility.
I suggest to the Covent Garden authorities that, if they feel bound to protect their subscribers against the dangers of my shocking them with a blue tie, they are at least equally bound to protect me against the danger of a woman shocking me with a dead bird.
G. Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw | Letter to The Times, 3 Jul 1905 | The Last Cuckoo
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