Overview of Winter Headwear
This is in support of Men's Winter Hats, my article over at The Art of Manliness.
Importance of Cold Weather Gear
Function Trumps Style
I like them to mix about evenly, but when you're talking about cold weather gear or even hot weather gear to some extent, but cold weather gear, you want to be careful because your extremities, you can get frostbite on the edges of our ears.
I look around here in the United States. I don't know what has happened, but it seems like a lot of us, especially younger kids, don't seem to ever want to wear hats. My wife sees this coming from Ukraine and she goes nuts. She says, “Babushka is going to jump out of the trees,” which if you're Slavic, you understand this. And they would just yell at you if you do not wear a hat.
Here in the United States, literally in Wisconsin, it is negative 10 degrees outside. Yesterday, one of my son's friends, kids running around with a pair of shorts and no hat on, it's crazy.
Different Styles of Winter Hats
You're looking at all these different hats and you're wondering, “What should I wear? What's going to keep me warm?”
Materials and Insulating Properties
- Function – we always want to lean towards items that are made from wool or specialty man-made fibers that are made to insulate and keep in heat.
- Number of man-made fibers – I can't give you an exact, but if usually you're looking at something and it has like a whole breakdown of how it actually is going to wick away sweat and it's going to pull that out in the outer layers, that is usually a pretty good thing.
Informal Winter Headwear
1. Watch Cap
I've got one made by Carol Davis Sportswear. They use a really high tech power stretch polytech. What it does is it wicks, so something like this is really great if you're going to be out in snowmobile trails and wearing a helmet over it and you're going to be sweating or you're going to have multiple layers and you need something that's going to wick away moisture from your body.
Note: unfortunately Carol has closed down her business.
A lot of times though, and let's just say you're out walking around New York City and you're wearing a really nice overcoat, a simple dress watch cap is going to work perfectly fine, and this is a dress watch cap for a number of reasons.
It's actually charcoal gray, not black exactly. Black would work fine and maybe a little bit lighter gray would be fine as well, but it doesn't really have any big patterns in it. It does have a bit of a pattern in the weave, but actually a little bit thicker knit weave is a bit dressier with this dark weave here.
Functionally, it will keep you warm. It's made from wool, so it will do a good job insulating, but it has a bit of a dressy look to it, which again is achieved with the weave and with a solid dark color.
The great thing about an acrylic watch cap is you can simply throw it in the wash when it's dirty. You can't do that with wool. Well, with cotton, you can do that as well, but this acrylic is going to do a better job than cotton in terms of wicking away moisture and actually retaining heat, so this works well for young men.
Anyone from South America or anyone that does any snowboarding or anything like that, you'll probably recognize the design of the hat. The great part about this South American style hat is that it covers the ears.
A lot of American watch caps, they don't have anything like this. South Americans, maybe they were a bit smarter and said, “Hey, we're going to cover the ears and we're going to have it so that it wraps around your cheeks.”
Formal Winter Headwear
When it comes to levels of formality, whenever something starts to cover the ears and wrap around the face, it technically drops down on levels of formality, and part of that is being able to send signals when you're engaging.
If you are out there at that time, I would say dress for function because this is probably going to be super cold out there. But if the weather isn't that bad and you're just bringing out a hat just to add and you think you're going to be just fine, then you would maybe want to look at something a bit more formal.
Having lived and spent time in Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union, I can tell you over there, that's where a lot of these winter styles come from because they live and breathe in the cold weather.
If you've ever been up to Siberia, you know what I'm talking about. Over there, winter is harsh. Here in the United States, you can get away with it to an extent, not so much up in Canada, but if you do not wear the proper gear, you're going to get frostbite really fast in those parts of the world. And as they had to dress nice, they came up with a number of different styles.
The nice thing about the ushanka or the trapper hat is that you can unbutton it. I've seen men do this. Most Russians or Ukrainians I've seen, they never do this, but you can bring the hat down like that to cover the ears and this is what we consider more of the trapper hat, but when it's up like this — and a lot of ushankas I've seen, I've never seen them come down.
They all look like they can, but I've never grabbed some random former Soviet guy and tried to pull his hat down to check that, so I can't tell you.
“Astrakhan” is the Russian word for the pelt of a young Karakul lamb (a breed of sheep native to Central Asia). It is harvested at, or just after, birth (or sometimes shortly before), when the hair is still black, soft, and very tightly-coiled, creating an incredibly dense mat.
Different cultures have adapted the wool into different styles of hats. A flat, round-topped version with a doubled-up brim was popular among Soviet Politburo members – these days we call the style an “ambassador hat,” but the Russian slang term for it means “pie-hat,” from the flat, round shape.
3. Wool newsboy
We also have the wool newsboy. That is more of an American version, but I would say the wool newsboy, it's more of like a cap on top. It looks like the traditional newsboy, but it's going to be made from usually a thicker weave. And more, it's not going to protect the sides of the head as well.
There are also dress hats, like the homburg, you can get dress caps that are formed on top. They come in felt and that's going to be a bit heavier. It's going to protect more from the wind and it's going to have a dressier look. However, it's not going to cover the ears or protect the sides of the head, but often it will keep the top of the head warm.
We also have a particular military winter wear. A lot of this sets it apart is you'll see it doesn't always cover the ears, and this plays into effect as we don't want to muffle sound, so that's one thing you often notice, is they have a little pop-up so that you can still hear pretty well and it doesn't muffle the sound.
They're not going to really care much about style, but in doing so, because they focus on function, I think a lot of them are pretty stylish. Different militaries around the world have different hats they come out with.
The hat is just a piece, gentlemen. There are other parts. Don't forget your scarf. If it's super cold and you're going to spend some time outside like down in Antarctica, then you see things where they cover every single part of the body, and that's where you've got a full hood on with goggles, so if it calls for it, make it happen.
Looking for more classy hat styles? Read the article on 9 Classic Hat Styles for the Modern Man