Dual Language Schools: Biliteracy Word of the WeekHats and Culture—Different Hats for Different Occasions

Author Photo: Velázquez Press

Photo for: Hats Around the World

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, this week’s word will be about hats. Hats and headgears have been used by humans since ancient times. There is no exact origin of hat wearing, which tells how universal the practice was and still is. The simple purpose of a hat was to protect the wearer from the sun. Overtime, headgear became a means to distinguish rank, social status, and religious affiliation. In the Western world, hats, for both men and women, were part of regular daily attire up until the mid-20th century. Nowadays, hats are more used for convenience, like a baseball cap, or for fashion and personal style purposes.

The hat associated with Cinco de Mayo is called a sombrero. Sombrero is Spanish for hat. So, if you go to a Spanish-speaking country and want to buy a sombrero, you need to be specific. The sombrero that many in the United States refer is usually a cowboy hat made of straw, or simply a wide-brimmed straw hat that sometimes has a tall crown. This type of hat, or sombrero, was used by farmers, ranchers, and laborers to protect them from the strong rays of the sun. A more elegant version of this hat would be the sombrero de charro, or charro’s hat. A charro is a Mexican horseman, or woman, whose style and technique was shaped by the cattle raising environment of central and western Mexico.

Hats also serve other purposes. Many people associate berets with French culture, but its origins are rooted in the Basque Country, where it is still seen worn by shepherds. It is a symbol of Basque culture, and whenever there is a cultural event or contest, the winner wins a beret and is called the txapeldun, from the Basque word txapel—‘beret’. The Basque word for any other ordinary hat, however, is kapela. Today, berets are also worn by some military forces in most countries in the world.

In many different cultures, hats can mean affiliation to a group. One example is the Jewish kippah—כפה, or yarmulke. Traditional Jewish men always wear it as a reminder of God’s suzerainty in the world. In traditional Middle Eastern culture, men rarely went without covering their heads, the kippa is one example. Also, among traditional Arab men, especially the Bedouin, a keffiyeh—كوفية is worn to keep cool in those hot summer days, and to keep the head warm during those cold desert nights. Although the kippa and the keffiyeh are traditional head coverings for Jews and Muslims respectively, these are specific terms used to name the said coverings. the Hebrew word for hat is כובע (kova) and the Arabic word is قبعة (qubba`ah).

Hats in the modern age have, perhaps, gone out of style. In some cultures, hats still are important, in others, hats are just used as part of traditional garb. Today, the baseball cap can still be a casual alternative to the Fedora of the forties and fifties. More fashion-conscious individuals bring back styles to make a statement. Whether it be tradition, fashion, or keeping the sun away, hats are a universal accessory in the world.