American Blue Laws #3: A man may not purchase a hat unless his wife is with him

What’s the ugliest hat you’ve ever seen? Have you ever seen a hat so annoying, gaudy, or repulsive that you just wanted to rip it off someone’s head?

Time for more speculation. Do you have any ideas why it would be illegal for a man to purchase a hat without his wife along?  

Last time we pondered the idea of why people weren’t allowed to shave on Main Street or catch lizards at night. Before that, we considered why donkeys weren’t allowed to sleep in bathtubs. These are just a few examples of the dozens of old America Blue Laws.

Consider what in the world happened in the town that precipitated a law about men not being able to purchase hats without their wives present. (All pictures courtesy of Visual Hunt.)

Was it because men have bad taste in hats? Did a hat become a public nuisance? Did a hat pose a community danger as a projectile? Did a bad hat become such a talk of the town that it caused strife and chaos? Were men hiding things under their hats?

As before, toss this question out at the dinner table tonight and see where it takes you.

Blue laws (sometimes known as Sunday laws) were intended to regulate Sunday activities back when most people went to church and observed Sunday as a day of rest.  To this day, some of those laws are still in the books, though considered obsolete. And most seem irrelevant as to which day of the week it is. Generally, they governed family activities, spending, and public behavior.

A few examples of American Blue Laws:

  • A man may not purchase a hat unless his wife is with him. (Kentucky)
  • Bees are not allowed to live inside the city limits. (San Gabriel, CA)
  • It is illegal for hens to lay eggs before 8am and after 4pm.

From before:

I use Blue Laws as a springboard for writing in my middle school and high school fiction writing classes. Students pick from a list of about 20 laws and brainstorm, “What event occurred that instigated the making this law?”

This assignment is relegated to the domain of tall tales—like Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill—so kids can go beyond the realm of possibility.

This puts the creative gears in motion. Following are two student responses to how a law came into effect. 

A man may not purchase a hat unless his wife is with him — by RB

This law was deemed necessary after women all over the state of Kentucky grew discontented with certain gifts from their husbands. Receiving a gift was never the problem. The problem was found solely in the poor judgment of the husbands. Good intentions were certainly evident, but fashion sense was certainly not.

Husbands came home with outrageously ugly hats, presenting them proudly to their wives. The man’s feelings were hurt when his wife gagged over the present. Vicious fights ensued.

In order to maintain a more tranquil state, the women of Kentucky banded together to stop these impulsive spending habits. They started to accompany their husbands to the store as the men performed their good deed. The female lawmakers sympathized with stricken wives and put the law info effect.

Here’s a speculation by another student, ZS, a middle schooler. 

As the sun rose over the state of Kentucky one morning, William Haasler woke up.

In his town, William was a big name. He was known for his wealth and business as well as for his fashion. He put on a black suit and shiny black shoes and brushed his hair until it was almost flat. After a breakfast of Eggs Benedict, he was off to town. 

He came upon a rather small hat shop and went inside. He tried on fifty different hats, but didn’t like any of them. He turned to leave.

“Wait, sir,” Jim the store clerk said. “I have one more hat in the back for you.” Jim went into the back and returned with a huge hat. It was orange with streaks of white, six feet tall, with little fake candies hanging on the brim.

William stood, dumbfounded. “Why, that’s the best hat ever made!” He tried it on and looked in the mirror, quite pleased. He paid 500 dollars for it and proudly walked out.

The hat became a huge sensation. A newsman interviewed William about his hat, and the hat made TV news. Then men all over the state wanted six-feet tall orange hats with fake candies dangling from the brim. 

After awhile, when people walked the streets, they could hardly see the sky for all the men’s tall hats. Children were jumping up to try to snag the candies. Folks kept bumping into each other because they were watching the hats. So many big hats cast dark shadows on the sidewalks. Wives were embarrassed to be seen in public with their husbands and the gaudy-looking hats.

And nobody was making women’s hats anymore.

This caused a huge uproar from women across the state. Women demanded new hats, but hat makers were too busy making tall orange men’s hats with the dangling fake candies. Women started protesting and blocking the doors of the hat shops.

So the legislators made a law. From then on, no man was allowed to buy a hat without his wife present to approve his choice.

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You could conjure a whole different scenario as to why men aren’t allowed to buy hats without their wives tagging along. Consider all the hat style possibilities . . .

A few questions prime the pump. 

  • Why did men’s hats cause such a stir?
  • Did the law come into effect after one event or several incidents?
  • Were women jealous of men’s hats?
  • What was the domino effect of one man’s hat purchase?
  • Was there an ugly hat contest? 
  • Were men hiding things under their hats?

Or take the law “Bees are not allowed to live inside the city limits.”

  • Was there an increase in bee population? 
  • Was there too much pollen in town?
  • Were people getting stung all the time?
  • How were lawmakers going to enforce the bees’ staying outside city limits?

What about this one? “It is illegal for hens to lay eggs before 8am and after 4.”

  • What kind of trouble was happening when hens laid eggs before 8am and after 4pm?
  • Did the hens get noisy and disturb the peace when they laid eggs at those times?
  • Did the timing of egg-laying affect the quality of the eggs?
  • How could lawmakers enforce the hens’ cooperation?

My challenge to you

While you’re sitting around the supper table with your family, brainstorm about these laws. Check out the full list above or my other posts. See what you come up with. Or go a step further and write your story down. 

So what’s the story? How do you think these laws came into being? (Creative fancies only, no facts allowed.)

Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

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2 thoughts on “American Blue Laws #3: A man may not purchase a hat unless his wife is with him

  1. My first thought was easily the same as RB’s. Women were frustrated with their husbands’ choices and the millineries grew tired of all the returns.
    My 2nd thought was a little less innocent–and sadly came almost as quickly as the first– Single woman were the ones running the millineries. And all the husbands kept going in to “buy hats,” but really spent all their time flirting with said clerks. One husband actually ran off with a young hat-selling maiden. And that man happened to be the husband of the governor’s sister.

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