Sunday, 20 June 2010

If you want to get ahead, get a hat

There was a time when every man appeared to wear a hat. In the UK the hat you wore to go to work in defined your social class. Even in my youth many office workers and professionals wore Bowler hats or Trilbies, whereas workingmen tended to wear flat caps. For some it became so ingrained a habit to wear a hat that they were seldom seen without one, even indoors at home. For example, I can hardly remember by paternal grandfather without his flat cap.

After the Second World War younger people began to stop wearing hats, and a famous chain of UK hat makers and gentleman's outfitters began to use the advertising slogan
'If you want to get ahead, get a hat.'
in the hope that young men would buck the trend and take up wearing hats. As an advertising campaign it failed, and other than the ubiquitous baseball cap it has become a fairly rare sight to see anyone wearing a hat that is not worn for safety reasons.

So what has all this to do with wargaming? The answer is simple – 'silly' hats can make a game just a little more memorable and/or enjoyable for the participants.

My introduction to 'silly' hats began with my becoming a founder member of Wargame Developments. I discovered quite quickly that getting a player to wear a 'silly' hat enabled them into 'character'. For example, give someone a tricorne hat and they seem to transform themselves into someone from the eighteenth century. 'Silly' hats therefore became part of the game designer’s toolbox, especially if you wanted to set the scene quickly for the players.

Over the years I have acquired a collection of 'silly' hats. (As an aside, they are called 'silly' hats because in the early days of Wargame Developments some 'opinion makers' amongst the UK wargaming community regarded members of Wargame Developments as rather too radical and/or not serious enough, and saw the wearing of hats to help players as being very silly. Mind you they also seemed to have a 'down' on the organisation for calling the figures we played with 'toys' or 'toy soldiers' and not something rather more pompous such as 'miniature military figurines'.)

My collection of 'silly' hats includes several berets, a British Colonial cork helmet (as worn during the Zulu War), a Planters-style pith helmet, a German World War II Field Cap, a Spanish Civil War helmet, three Budionovka hats ... and now a replica German pickelhaube. I bought the latter from a fancy dress suppliers and it arrived by post in just over 24 hours. It is made of thick plastic and looks quite convincing from a distance. I have bought it so that I can wear it during Paddy Griffith's plenary game at the forthcoming COW2010, after which it will go into the box with all my other 'silly hats', no doubt to be used again at some time in the future.


  1. Indeed, the passing of Good Hats For Men is something I deplore.

    "If you want to get a hat, get a head."

    Where did you find the Budionovkas? I'd like to get one for my friend, but his head is enormous... I might have to stitch one together out of a woollen blanket.

  2. Itmurnau,

    I bought mine from street trader in Leningrad (sorry, St Petersburg; old habits die hard!). They are reproductions and cost me eight Euros each because I bought five (his entire stock!).

    For pictures, have a look at my previous blog entry (Baltic retail therapy) particularly the photograph that was part of it (Budionvkas).

    All the best,


  3. I just got back from vacation, and am catching up on everything. COW looked great--friendly and relaxed with good games. That's my ideal; I rarely game at conventions here because the noise and tension level is thick enough to cut with a knife.

    I was very saddened to learn of Paddy's death. An important voice in the hobby has been stilled. Quite a few of them have lately, it seems.

    As for headgear, I just saw an orignal Russian helmet for sale at a surplus store for about $24 (16 pounds?) I don't know if that is a good price, but I've never seen any for sale around here before. Am giving it some deep thought...

    Best regards,


  4. Chris,

    It was one of the best (if not the best) COW that I can remember. Paddy would have enjoyed being there I am sure. There was lots to do as well as time to sit and talk about wargaming in particular and life in general.

    As to your helmet ... if it is genuine its about the price level I would expect to pay. What usually is the thing that sest the price is the quality and condition, with good stuff costing more.

    All the best,