Happy National Hat Day! Yes, this is a real, federally recognized holiday, and to celebrate the world’s oldest head covering (fun fact: the first known pictorial depiction of a hat is a straw hat on a tomb in Egypt dated around 3500 BCE) I’ve compiled a list of the greatest hats in literary history.
9. the cat in the hat
I think all of you knew this anthropomorphic feline was going to make an appearance. Making his debut appearance in The Cat in the Hat in 1957, he quickly rose to stardom as one of the most iconic characters in all of children’s media. Curiously, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel, for those of you who were unaware of his real name) provided varying accounts of the creation of the Cat in the Hat. According to the one he told most often, though, he conceived of the character when he scanned the word list that William Spaulding provided him with the intention of creating a story out of the first two word that rhymed, which were naturally “cat” and “hat”. Regardless, the Cat’s tall, red, white-stripped hat is perhaps the most recognizable article of clothing in children’s literature.
8. the mad hatter
The word “hat” is literally in the man’s name, so you probably also anticipated this Lewis Carroll character to make an appearance. Making his first appearance in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, The Mad Hatter is perhaps one of the most creative children’s characters. Sure, Dr. Seuss may have his contenders, but considering that everyone from Wonderland is absolutely insane, I definitely think they take the cake. And you ever wonder how such a character was conceived? In the early 19th century, “mad as a hatter” was a common phrase, back when fancy hats were the talk of the town. The hatters went mad when, in an effort to create fine felt for their hats, they would use a mercy-based compound, and for those of you who are unaware, exposure to mercury causes psychotic reactions, hence the madness. Does this mean that our fun-loving hatter is actually victim to high-dose poison? Probably.
If you haven’t read my article on The Lord of the Rings (found here) then you don’t know how overrated I find Tolkien as an author. However, I am willing to admit that, for all of the faults I find in Tolkien’s work, he did pioneer the modern interpretation of the wizard. Sure, Merlin was a character long before Gandalf, and while he was depicted with the same long beard and flowing robes, it wasn’t until The Lord of the Rings where wizards were finally given their now signature pointed hats. While Gandalf’s may not have the stars and crescent moons that most wizard hats found at Party City are decorated with, its wide brim and dipped tip is just as iconic.
6. The sorting hat
Can the Sorting Hat read minds? How exactly does he determine what house the students of Hogwarts belong to as he sits atop their heads? I only read through the Harry Potter series once when I was in elementary school, and to this day I still wish they explained how the Sorting Hat worked. Even in some extended lore, if not directly in the books. But I digress. Every bookworm that was born after 1980 has read through the Harry Potter series at least once. While the Sorting Hat may be yet another testament to how poorly operated Hogwarts is, he’s probably the most famous living hat in all of fiction (which, admittedly, isn’t that high of an honor, for how many living hats can you even name?).
5. sherlock holmes
Sherlock Holmes is a fictional private detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and while he himself was far from a rational and skeptical man (not only did he believe that fairies were real, but he also believed that Harry Houdini could dematerialize), Sherlock Holmes quickly gained a reputation as the greatest detective in all of fiction (that is, until Batman came around), and his look has gained such popularity that it has become the stereotypical clothing of all detectives depicted in future media, specifically his deerstalker cap. While headgear worn typically hunting in rural areas, it’s association with Sherlock Holmes has made it the staple of the detective look.
4. Holden caulfield
Narrator and main character of J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, since the book’s publication in 1951, Holden Caulfield has become an icon for teenage rebellion and angst. For those of you who haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye, the book is chock-full of symbolism, one of those symbols being Holden’s red hunting hat, which symbolize his sense of alienation from those around him and intentional isolation. It’s his way of protecting himself from the world, which is why he gives it to his younger sister Phoebe at the end of the novel, in hopes that it will do the same for her.
3. the man with the yellow hat
Aside from George himself, the only recurring character in the Curious George children’s books was the Man with the Yellow Hat . Never mentioned by name and only appearing as a plot device, either to facilitate George to the adventure or to save him when he gets in a tight spot, the Man with the Yellow Hat is made famous by his signature wide brimmed yellow hat. Most of us may not remember him from our days reading Curious George as a kid, but we all definitely remember his hat!
2. peter pan
First appearing in The Little White Bird in 1902, free-spirited and mischievous young boy Peter Pan wears perhaps one of the most iconic costumes in all of classic literature, and a costume incomplete without his green, red feathered cap. Surprisingly, J.M Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, never described his appearance in much detail. His famous green garb was instead an original Disney creation, and the famous cap, too. Peter Pan is one of the few characters ever conceived who you can identify just by the hat.
Who remembers playing Where’s Waldo? as a kid? While we may not know much about him (other than the fact that he enjoys a competitive game of hide-and-seek), Waldo has existed for decades, ever since 1987 in the UK, where he is known to our neighbors across the pond as Wally. While we all identify him by his red-and-white-stripped shirt, his bubble hat is an article of clothing exclusive to him. No matter where you find it, you’ll always associate it with him.