Assignment 3, Ethnography


The theme I'll be working with for the rest of the class is........ Hats!

I love a good hat. I'm one of those people who will wear hats all throughout the year. I have the most variety of hat in the winter, but I'm old fashioned and like to shield my delicate skin with a summer bonnet as well. Personally, my very favourite hat I own is a huge Russian creation. It's called a Mongolka, or Mongolian style hat, made of black sheepskin. Here's a portrait a local artist name Ivan did of me in it.

I love this hat for its warmth. It is made entirely from sheepskin, and it is very plush. I also love the statement this hat makes. I feel like a character when I wear this creation, a feeling that enjoy immensely. It is also so thick in its wool that it becomes an anywhere pillow, meaning I can take comfortable naps every moment. It's a dangerous hat to wear when sleepy.

I interviewed four different people for this assignment, and casually talked to several more about hats in their lives. My expert that I isolated was an apparel design major who I met through a mutual friend, she is a junior in the program here and someone I didn't know before this project. We talked about her experience designing hats, and how she chooses to wear her own headgear.
The transcripts from the interviews are somewhat illegible, so I'll transcribe for you here the most relevant excerpts.

Tim; a local musician, the casual user:

What was your last experience with a hat?
I wore a beret yesterday. It was part of a costume. Wearing that hat made me feel French and a little bit like an asshole. It really helped me solidify the character I was going for. It felt great.

Any problems with that hat?
Nope, it stayed on well. The opening had an elastic band that kept it close to my head, which is nice because usually hats are too big or too small for me. I have a big head and large hats are oft too large me- the same thing happens with bike helmets- I feel neglected by the lack of proper hat sizing.

What do you value in a hat?
Function. Utility.

Did the hat have any usefulness to you?
It stayed on well, it worked for the costume. It didn't really keep me warm. I don't really look to a hat to keep me warm.

Why is that? That you don't ask a hat to be warm?
I only want a hat to be warm when it is cold, and I wear them more than just when it is cold. I have a lot of hair to keep me warm most of the year, so the hat doesn't need to be super warm as well. It want it to stay on my head and look cool. I really like silly hats.

Why silly hats?
The Pope has a hat, Napoleon has a hat, Carmen San Diego has a hat, they all are recognizable by their hats. A hat is a quick way to make a bold statement to the world. Like, put on a a fedora without the full 1930's gangster look to go with it, and the panache, you're suddenly a douchebag.

Anna; a distant connection, the designer:

The last experience you had with a hat?
I saw a beautiful hat in a shop recently. It was almost a boater style with an unexpected slope in the center of it, very dynamic. I wanted to purchase it but it was a summer hat, not a warm one. It was made of rattan and I remembered how far away summer was, so I left it there.

Ever had a memorable time with a winter hat?
Yeah, the first time I bought one. I grew up in Hawaii, and had obviously no need for a warm thing to cover my head with. A lot of things about winter I never had the chance to experience until I moved to MN. I bought my first real hat last year.

Was it exciting?
Yes! I love the cold, the change of season, I like being prepared for it. And as a designer, any chance to change my wardrobe is exciting. I now enjoy wearing a hat, I much prefer to wearing a hood. I'm frustrated that I can't wear a hat with my hair up though.

Why no hair up with a hat on?
It looks stupid. I have too much hair for it to all fit underneath a hat. it changes the fit and I feel like my head looks misshapen with a hat on. Hoods offer plenty of space but don't have the right fit for my head to neck ratio. They always fall off.

Caitlin; design student, cyclist, snowboarder:

Tell me about a memorable experience you had with a winter hat
Well, I bike a lot and wear a helmet when I do, I can never find a hat that works well with my helmet. My favourite hat has a big pom pom on top. It's so fun and exuberant, but it doesn't fit underneath a helmet. And even if there isn't a big pompom, the hat often is stretched out by the helmet and sometimes covers your eyes.

What do you do to fix that?
Sometimes I wear a headband that is knit instead of a full hat. It doesn't keep me as warm, but it fits well. I feel like it is more feminine than a whole hat too. If it is snowing outside I will not wear a headband because it doesn't cover the top of your head, meaning it will get wet.
Also, headbands will stretch out, and not stay on top of your head. Buttons help, maybe elastic would too.

How does your hat use change between everyday wear to more extreme activities?
Well, when snowboarding you want a really snug hat, so that it stays on better and that it will fit underneath your giant helmet. But sometimes with the snowboard you just start sweating and have to take the hat off.

Ever loose it?
Surprisingly, no.

These themes of femininity when wearing hat was a consistent issue with females I talked to. Even when I observed people wearing hats on campus, women represented all the individuals wearing headbands. Men seemed to prefer hoods over anything, or a hat and hood together.
I also talked to many people who were worried about how a hat sits on their head and how much of their hair they were showing.

Let's look at some examples.
Katrina found a way to combine hat and helmet. Now her helmet does not cover the front of her head, where it should be. But she's a cutie!

Forgoing hat entirely in favour for hood, Caitlin wears her helmet in the right spot. Later on when she got her bike, the hood was pushed back by the wind and she was glad for the scarf around her neck.

Evan put his hat on and then reached underneath it to grab one curl and bring it forward to make himself not look bald.

Fran models an attractive an feminine beret. She says it slips about on her long hair though.

I wear a lot of hats. I tried on all my hats that I have here and scored them for warmth, style, and hair manageability.

For me, my hat that was bigger overall was the best rated on my criteria. The problems that I found in my research that people tend to have with hats lie in two big categories. These problems come up over and over again.

Caitlin, an avid cyclist, needs a way to keep her head warm with a helmet, because the hats she has are too bulky.
She talked directly about cycling and snowboarding with hat and helmet on, and when it came down to it, she didn't wear a hat with her helmet and later complained of a cold head.

Anna, a fashion conscious winter time walker, needs a way to wear hat beautifully, because her current options make a mockery of her hairstyle.
She mentioned this problem as a frustration she has found with hats in the past while we were talking.


The format of your interview was really good from an ethnography standpoint, your questions were all open-ended and invited a lot of stories about their experiences with hats. It would have been nice to see more interviews though, because the only one you wrote down in full was Tim's. It was cool to see photos of how people wore their hats around campus, especially in different scenarios (biking, fashion, etc.), but I feel like you could have done even more with the observing part. Maybe you could have looked at different trends for hats for the winter or something? The idea of rating the hats was good, but the graph was a bit hard to read at first, and it would have been nice to see you testing even more variables, like how it does with hoods, or if it fits the average head, etc. All around though, I think you did a really thorough job!

I enjoyed that you incorporated your own interests in your subtopic. It adds a personal touch as well as some credibility. It is also good that you didn’t only base your results on your personal experience but also went on to gain insight from others.
In particular, I enjoyed you rating scale of your own hats. It was good research/observation that extended beyond the interviews.

There was a bit of discontinuity in your third paragraph that led into the transcriptions of the interviews. You wrote that you interviewed four different people, which was good. However, then you wrote about the expert that you interviewed, which led to the transcriptions of the interviews that didn’t start with her (the expert) interview. As I was reading, I was expecting to read her part of the interview right after you wrote about her, but then it was all of a sudden Tim’s section. Perhaps you could carry the piece of info about the expert down to the section that transcribes her interview, or start with her interview, or create a better transition that flows a little better.

This is a picky detail, but I wish you would’ve made the headlines for each person’s transcription in a different font or size than the body of the paragraphs. It would make it stand out better. It would also make it easier for someone to look back after they’ve already read it. For instance, let’s say they wanted to review what Anna said in her section – it’s just a little hard to go back and see the separation between each section and find Anna’s quickly.

Overall, well done. I, too, can relate to the female winter hat problems, and I look forward to seeing what solutions you come up with!

First off, that painting of you in the Russian hat is great. You included a lot of good observations here, and they were different from one another which helps give you many angles to look at. I think that including not only the perspective of those you interviewed, but your own perspective of hats was helpful and could maybe help you find areas of emphasis/ areas to improve.

The rating chart of your own hats was interesting, and it would have been nice to see it applied to the people you interviewed! As far as the interviews go, you got some good insight, however all of the people you interviewed seemed to be around the same age. It would be helpful from an ethnographic point of view to incorporate a broader spectrum of ages and backgrounds. For example, for the expert in hats maybe go to someone who has been making/ designing hats for a long time rather than a student. Or simply ask a retailer who has experience selling winter hats.

Overall, good work and I look forward to seeing what you create/ innovate!

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This page contains a single entry by enins001 published on November 11, 2013 6:49 PM.

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