76-Second Travel Show: “Pilgrim Hats, They Real?”

Episode #010

F E A T U R I N G * 2 2 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S


Americans celebrate the country’s greatest holiday this week, and one must ask, again, with a sigh, about pilgrim hats. What were they called, did pilgrims at the famed 1621 picnic with the Wampanoag really wear them, how can I get one?

My Google searches found surprisingly little other than a video tutorial how to make one. And, out on the streets, walking the aisles of Wal Mart, Walgreen’s, CVS in Oklahoma City, I discovered even less: despite Thanksgiving’s enduring lure for American families, you’ll find no pilgrim hats sandwiched between Halloween left-overs or Christmas ornaments and fake reindeer.

Apparently the pilgrim hats as we know them stem from the Spanish “capotain” or “sugar-loaf,” so hip to men and women of London in the mid 1600s. And to Puritans wanting to look fussed up at Sunday meetings.

They looked fetching, but weren’t very practical. Transforming a beaver pelt into one was laborious and buying one was expensive. In a wonderful 1896 New York Times article called “The Hats Men Wore,” a quote from the 17th century lashes out on a felt hat called the “sugar-loaf.” The writer complains the hats are “so incommodious… that every puffe of wind deprived us of them, requiring the employment of one hand to keep them on.”

–> “Incommodious” means “inconvenient.” Don’t feel bad. I didn’t know it

Strong ‘puffes of wind’ certainly were aplenty in Plymouth, Mass, the alleged site of the first Thanksgiving. And this painting of the event  suggests pilgrims weren’t that into hats afterall. At least not during cross-cultural feasts.

Peggy Baker of the Pilgrim Hall — in Plymouth — told me today that the hats wouldn’t have had buckles (“those came in the 1670s, and were a short-lived trend”) and that they were worn on Sunday meetings only. (Pilgrim Hall actually has the only existing pilgrim hat — a beige, buckle-free one worn in the 1640s by a woman named Constance Hopkins Snow.)

The ’76-Second Travel Show’ doesn’t know what to think about pilgrim hats. Just that Thanksgiving — its lack of Christmas-esque gift-giving tension, focus on family and football — is worth the time, regardless of what hat you wear. Just as long as the hat has no buckles.

This week’s episode was filmed in one continuous shot in Oklahoma City’s Stockyards.

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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