Why Men Stopped Wearing Hats


by Tim Metzner

####…and what it means for your company culture.

I’ve always been fascinated looking at old photo’s where virtually every man you see is wearing a hat (and suit) and have often wondered, when/why did this change? Obviously today in a similar setting, virtually the only hats you’ll see are baseball caps (or beanie caps when it’s cold). So what happened?

I’ve read a few pretty straight-forward explanations that seem to make sense. This is probably the best summary of those, but most people seem to believe that the primary cause was either:

  1. John F. Kennedy set the tone. Before JFK, presidents wore top hats regularly (including to their inauguration), but JFK hardly ever wore a hat. Many believe that Kennedy, one of our most charismatic presidents, set the new standard for going hatless.

  2. Transportation. In the 1950’s the automobile became much more common, both because they became more readily available and because Eisenhower spearheaded the completion of the highway system (making driving much more practical). Before this, most walked or used public transportation of some sort to get to work, and the belief is that this led men to wear hats because:

    • It helped keep them warm and protect their heads from dust, debris, the elements etc (keep in mind it wasn’t usual to wash hair more than once/week at the time).
    • There was more “headspace” available on public transit than in an automobile–when driving a car men would usually remove their hats while driving vs. keeping them on during the commute on public transit.

Both of these seem to make sense, but in reality, it’s not that simple. Even if those were the underlying drivers of the change, it still required conscious daily decisions by individuals to create a cultural shift. Massive shifts in trends like this are the result of the collective actions of many; one person acting alone has no impact, but collectively our actions have a massive impact. There is no “rule book” that gets changed that says men should stop wearing hats—individual choices create the “norms” of our society.

What does this have to do with business?

This is also how a company’s culture is created. While a company may have a handbook, mission statement, list of core values, etc, even if all of your employees can recite these by memory (very rare), they alone are just words. The only way it creates a real impact on your culture is if it leads to individual actions that, collectively, set the tone for how people act. How then, does a great culture emerge?

Knowing that a culture is derived from the collective actions of your team, I believe there are a few things we can do (as leaders) to help influence culture.

How to positively impact culture

  1. Model the actions you hope to see in others. Smile at people, try to have (and display) a consistent positive energy, thank people for a job well done, take a genuine interest in the lives of your co-workers (not just their work), offer a helping hand, etc.

  2. Callout and reward great behaviors. At Differential, every week we have an all team meeting where the bulk of the time is spent letting everyone share who they believe deserves recognition that week. While this definitely highlights people who are going above and beyond in their work, every single week there is also someone simply thanking (publicly) another person for being helpful. This is powerful.

  3. Do the right thing. Seems obvious, but are you really considering the moral/ethical implications of your decisions on a daily basis? How about when noone is watching? If you’re consistently making decisions and acting as if everyone is watching, that will become obvious over time and it will create a culture of people doing the same.

  4. Don’t hire/tolerate jerks. Because your culture is defined by every day actions, even one bad actor can have massively negative effects. No matter how talented or seemingly irreplaceable someone is, if you allow this you’re doing more harm than good.

Whether you’re in a leadership position or not, accept the responsibility and challenge of modeling good actions and behavior. Doing so will catalyze others to follow suit and create a great place to work!

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