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The Whoopie Cap

What can you do with your father’s old hats?  If you were born after, say, 1955, the answer is probably “Not much.”  Men were still wearing fedoras in the 1970s and 1980s, but by 1990, fashion had turned to the point where unless you were Indiana Jones, the hat didn’t look right.  Some blame Jack Kennedy for starting it all, strutting around perfectly coiffed and bare-headed in the early 1960s.  In 1953, Harry Truman, a haberdasher by trade, stepped out of office, and just eight years later we had a president who didn’t care for hats?  The times, they were a-changin’.

If you set the WABAC machine to the 1920s or 1930s (when Indiana Jones was supposed to have lived), you would see the fedora was still very much in style.  Men just didn’t leave the house without a hat of some kind, and for what remained of the middle class, the fedora was the topper of choice.  But like any other piece of clothing, hats wear out, too.  When that happened, you’d just throw it away.  Though if there were a little boy or a teenager in your life, there’s a chance he’d have a use for it.  Remember when, in The Last Crusade, the older archaeologist gave the twelve-year-old Indiana Jones (played by River Phoenix) his fedora in the beginning of the movie, and he started wearing it?  A boy probably wouldn’t have done that back then.  He would have designs of his own.   That design was called the whoopee cap.

The whoopee cap (or, sometimes, a felty) was an old fedora with the brim chopped off in a jagged pattern.  The jagged brim was usually turned up.  Boys would often stick bottle caps and pins in the hats for decoration.  Not stick pins or bobby pins, but pins handed out as promotions, maybe from businesses or political candidates.  The result might be something like the hats on the two kids above.

The whoopee cap used to show up in popular media all the time.  It was a common status detail given to boys or teenagers in movies and cartoons.  If you picked up a comic book printed in the 1940s or 1950s, chances are a little boy character would be wearing one.  And why not?  That’s what cartoonists saw when they looked around back then.

The strange thing is that the whoopee cap, though it went out of fashion roughly sixty years ago, didn’t entirely disappear from the media.  Since adults wrote TV and cartoons, they’d still insert the cap on characters.  They remembered what the whoopee cap was, even if the upcoming generation was raised in ignorance of it.  The first Encyclopedia Brown children’s books were published in 1963, and Bugs Meany, the neighborhood bully, wore one.  The character Goober Pyle in the 1960s hit The Andy Griffith Show wore one, as well.

Forsyth "Jughead" Jones III still wears a whoopie cap

But perhaps the most well-known whoopee cap of all time, one which you can still see on a fictional character today, is the one worn by Jughead Jones in Archie comics.  The character first appeared in 1941, as part of the original cast of the comic.  At the time, the reference would not have been lost on the readers.  Archie comics were a big hit in the 1940s and remain popular today, but the whoopee cap eventually started to be seen as a problem.  By the mid-1960s, readers were regularly writing in to ask, “Why does Jughead wear a crown?”  In the late 1960s, the artists at Archie decided it was maybe time to update Jughead’s look, and gave him a red baseball cap.  This resulted in far more letters from distraught readers demanding, “Bring back the crown!”  So the “crown” stayed, and the generations that would grow up reading Archie comics would continue to wonder the same thing.  But a cartoon character’s look is something readers get attached to.  Scrooge McDuck has been wearing a top hat and spats far past the point where the look made any sense.  The Peanuts gang hasn’t had a fashion update since their debut in 1950.  Readers don’t like it when you change a cartoon character’s clothes.  (If you’re not a cartoon character, I still recommend regular changes of clothes.  It’s not quite as endearing on an actual person.)

A scene from Riverdale, 1947


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