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Headgear serve a variety of purposes:
- protection (against impact, cold, heat, rain and other precipitation, glare, sunburn, sunstroke, dust, contaminants, etc.)
- to keep hair contained or tidy
- decoration or fashion
- religious purposes
- medical purposes
- modesty; social convention
- disguising baldness
- distinction; a badge of office
Overview of headgear types
Hats often have a brim all the way around the rim, and may be either placed on the head, or secured with hat-pins (which are pushed through the hat and the hair). Depending on the type of hat, they may be properly worn by men, by women or by both sexes.
Caps are generally soft and often have no brim or just a peak (like on a baseball cap). For many centuries women wore a variety of head-coverings which were called caps. For example, in the 18th and 19th centuries a cap was a kind of head covering made of a flimsy fabric such as muslin; it was worn indoors or under a bonnet by married women, or older unmarried women who were "on the shelf" (e.g. mob-cap).
Bonnets, as worn by women and girls, were hats worn outdoors which were secured by tying under the chin, and often which had some kind of peak or visor. Some styles of bonnets had peaks so large that they effectively prevented women from looking right or left without turning their heads. Bonnets worn by men and boys are generally distinguished from hats by being soft and having no brim—this usage is now rare (they would normally be called caps today, except in Scotland where the "bunnet" is common in both civilian life and in the Royal Regiment of Scotland).
Helmets are designed to protect the head, and sometimes the neck, from injury. They are usually rigid, and offer protection from blows. Helmets are commonly worn in battle, on construction sites and in many contact sports. In most of the United States they are required by law for anyone operating a range of vehicles including motorcycles, and sometimes extending to bicycles and skateboards.
Historically, hoods were either similar to modern hoods, or a separate form of headgear. In medieval Europe hoods with short capes, called chaperons in French, were extremely common, and later evolved into elaborate and adaptable hats. Women's hoods varied from close-fitting, soft headgear to stiffened, structured hoods (e.g. gable hoods, hennins or French hoods) or very large coverings made of material over a frame which fashionable women wore over towering wigs or hairstyles to protect them from the elements (e.g. calash).
A mask is worn over part or all of the face, frequently to disguise the wearer, but sometimes to protect the face. Masks are often worn for pleasure to disguise the wearer at fancy dress parties, masqued balls, during Halloween or other festivals, or as part of an artistic performance. They may also be worn by criminals to prevent recognition or as camouflage while they commit a crime. Masks which physically protect the wearer vary in design, from guard bars across the face in the case of ice hockey goalkeepers, to facial enclosures which purify or control the wearer's air supply, as in gas masks.
Turbans are headgear, mostly for males, made up from a single piece of cloth which is wrapped around the head in a wide variety of styles. Turban is the best known word in English for a large category of headgear and general head wraps traditionally worn in many parts of the world.
Wigs are headpieces made from natural or synthetic hair which may be worn to disguise baldness or thin hair, or as part of a costume. A toupee may be worn by a man to cover partial baldness. In most Commonwealth nations, special wigs are also worn by barristers, judges, and certain parliamentary officials as a symbol of the office.
A fillet or circlet is a round band worn around the head and over the hair. Elaborate and costly versions of these eventually evolved into crowns, but fillets could be made from woven bands of fabric, leather, beads or metal. Fillets are unisex, and are especially prevalent in archaic to renaissance dress.
Today a veil is normally a piece of sheer fabric which covers all or part of the face. For centuries up until the Tudor period (1485), European women wore veils which covered the hair, and sometimes the neck and chin, but not the face. Today many women wear veils when getting married.
The term veil is sometimes used to describe part of Muslim religious dress that accompanies a headscarf.
Hairnets are used to prevent loose hair from contaminating food or work areas. A snood is a net or fabric bag pinned or tied on at the back of a woman's head for holding the hair. Scarves and kerchiefs are used to protect styled hair or keep it tidy. Shower caps and swim caps prevent hair from becoming wet or entangled during activity.
Buff is multifunctional article of headwear clothing. It is a tube of micro-fibrous fabric that, with different arrangements, can be worn as a scarf, bandanna, headband, beanie, face mask, tube top, helmet liner, wristband, and other variations.
Purpose of headgear
Protection or defense
The most common use of headgear is as protection for the head and eyes.
A baseball cap is used by sports players to keep the sun out of their eyes, and by some chefs to keep the hair out of their food. Traditionally, silk chef's hats are used for this purpose. A rain hat has a wide rim to keep the rain out of the wearer's face. Some traditional types of hat such as the Mexican sombrero also serve this purpose.
Headgear is also an article of fashion. The formal man's black silk top hat was formerly an indispensable portion of the suit, and women's hats have, over the years, attained a fantastic number of shapes ranging from immense confections to no more than a few bits of cloth and decorations piled on top of the head. Recently, the hat as an article of formal wear has fallen out of fashion, though some kinds of hats other than baseball caps may be included in young people's subcultural fashions.
Some headgear is worn for religious practice. Observant Jewish men wear yarmulkes, small cloth skull-caps, because they believe the head should be covered in the presence of God. Some Jewish men wear yarmulkes at all times, others in the synagogue.
Similar to the yarmulke is the zucchetto worn by Roman Catholic clergy. Other forms of apostolic headgear include the mitre, biretta, tasselled cardinal's hat, and the papal tiara. Orthodox Christian clergy and monastics often wear a skufia, a kamilavkion, or a klobuk. See also the fez (clothing). The term red hat, when used within the Roman Catholic Church, refers to the appointment of a Cardinal, a senior Prince of the Church, who is a member of the electoral college that chooses the Pope. On being appointed to the cardinalate, he is said to have received the red hat, or cardinal's biretta.
Symbol of status or office
Headgear such as crowns and tiaras are worn in recognition of noble status especially among royalty. Wigs are worn traditionally by judges and barristers of Commonwealth nations. Feathered headpieces are worn by various Native North American and South American indigenous peoples, such as the Urarina of Peruvian Amazonia as a sign of status and sacred knowledge.
In the Western culture derived from Christian tradition, removing one's headgear is a sign of respect, making oneself more open, humble or vulnerable, much like bowing or kneeling. This is as if to say, "I acknowledge that you are more powerful than I am, I make myself vulnerable to show I pose no threat to you and respect you." Men's hats are removed in Church, and not removing them is usually frowned upon. Women, however, are required to wear a hat to cover the head in some churches based on 1 Corinthians 11:5.
In the Jewish tradition, the converse idea equally shows respect for the superior authority of God. Wearing a kippah or yarmulke means the wearer is acknowledging the vast gulf of power, wisdom, and authority that separates God from mankind. It is a sign of humility to wear a yarmulke. There is a common phrase that explains this, saying that "there's always something above you" if you're wearing a yarmulke, helping you remember you're human and God is infinite. A Talmudic quote speaks of a righteous man who would "not walk (six feet) with an uncovered head, the (spirit of God) is always above him". Jews also may wear a fur hat or a black hat with a brim.
In the military, there are specific rules about when and where to wear a hat (also known as a 'cover' in America). Hats are generally worn outdoors only, at sea as well as on land; however, personnel carrying firearms typically also wear their hats indoors. Removing one's hat is also a form of salute. Many schools also have this rule due to the fact that many younger men tend to wear baseball caps and this being in relations to gangs depending on the side in which the hat is worn.
As a guideline, a man should remove his hat to show respect for the dead, when a national anthem is played or in the presence of royalty, in a church or courtroom, and during other solemn occasions, when meeting someone, and indoors while in the presence of a lady. A woman may continue wearing her hat, unless she is wearing what is considered a uni-sex hat, such as a baseball cap, when she should remove her hat as well. Women usually do not take off their hats in these situations because they may be carefully pinned to their hair, but only take off their hats in their own homes.
Finally, the hat can be raised (briefly removed and replaced, with either hand), or "tipped" (touched or tilted forward) as a greeting.
There are two types of hats: with brims and without. Necessity and fashion, are the reason people wear hats. The first manufactured hats were nothing more than a round piece of leather. By cutting a ring of holes about the size of a head. A string woven through those holes, pulled tight held the hat snugly to the head. The hatband separated the crown from the brim.
The wide floppy brim was tied up with a ribbon, to keep it out of one’s eyes. Some times when the ribbon was off they would see that the brim stayed curled by itself. This led to the hand-curled brim.
Brims were bound with ribbon to keep them from fraying after being trimmed with the knife. Although advancements in materials have eliminated the need for binding the brim, or pinning it up, the custom remains, We must keep our brims curled up because long ago hatters did not know how to stiffen a brim.
When men went off to do battle it was customary to wear a feather from their loved one. Because men were mostly right handed they lead when sword fighting with the right side. At first they would stick the feather in the adjusting hatband. Unless they wanted to fight blind, surviving duelers moved the feather and knot, to the left side of the hat. Where it remains today. As time went on, they would wrap a ribbon around the crown to hold the feather and hide the tie string knot.
When leather turned to velvet some protection was needed to keep the soft fabric from falling on people’s hair, this is where the lining came from. Even though modern hats are stiff enough not to collapse, the custom remains. Individual sizing eliminated the need for the tie string, but the bow remains at the back of the hat, serving as a memorial to bygone hatters. What has evolved from necessity later became fashion. 
Hats like the cowboy hat were designed from the fur up, to provide a lightweight all-weather shield from the climatic conditions of the American West. Hats like the baseball cap were designed to provide shade.
- List of hats and headgear
- Chapeaugraphy—an act in which a ring of felt is shaped to resemble many hat types
- ^ Wolff, Edwin Daniel. Why We Do It. Manchester, N.H.: Ayer Company Publishers [Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1968, reprint of 1929]. ISBN 0836910060.
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