Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Real Versus Repro: A Study of Hobby Hats

After my somewhat guilt-ridden recent post (which, thank you everyone for the support! I'm feeling much less guilty about buying corsets now), I thought it would be a good opportunity to drag this out of the draft pile and say something positive about buying items!

In particular, I'm jumping forward in time to the 1940s.

members of the Women's Army Corps in England, 1944
I really enjoy participating in WWII events as a War Correspondent, but recently I've also become more interested in adding a Women's Army Corps (WAC)* impression, because I love being able to talk about (and demonstrate) the ways in which women were actively involved in the war part of the "war effort." This is somewhat out WWII was a barrier-breaking era for women who were fighting to create a space for female participation in traditionally male domains, and there is so much there to research, interpret, and share.

ok, this is actually a Hoover vacuum ad from 1944, but the ad focuses on how "women today" have to be stronger than ever...so I'll take it
I've been lucky enough to meet (in person and virtually) some fantastic women who represent WACs and other military branches (and other nations!), and I'm excited to get back to events! To help with that, I've been working on expanding my warco wardrobe to include the pieces of a proper enlisted WAC uniform. I already have a lot of them, as warcos wore WAC uniforms after the US joined the war, but there are some key pieces I was missing. One of those items is a WAC cap (known as the "Hobby hat," Olveta Hobby, first WAC director), which was the original hat issued to WACs for wear with their service uniform. The WAC cap was worn until 1945, but was notoriously uncomfortable (it's entirely round, which heads are not) and difficult to keep in form (it's not very stiff).

WAACs in Hobby hats, 1942 (posing for Life Magazine)
Garrison caps were approved for WAC wear in 1944, so wearing a garrison cap is totally reasonable (and I actually already have one, which is nice). But there's a couple of things I really like about the WAC cap: it was designed to be "distinctly military" in style, to align the WACs with the rest of the US Army, and it was intended to make WACs distinct from other women's service groups that wore garrison caps.

WAC recruitment poster, with Hobby hat on the bed
enlisted WACs, 1943
Although it's pretty common among WWII reenactors, wearing original items still weirds me out, so if at all possible I try to find reproduction items for my collection. Unfortunately, reproduction WAC caps aren't common...but originals are also scarce, and can be well outside my budget. Luckily this project doesn't really have a deadline, so I could afford to wait and hope.

And it paid off! A manufacturer has started making reproduction WAC caps, and several sellers listing them on eBay. I ordered one in "olive drab serge" from kleiderkasse, because they had free shipping and good reviews. It came in time for my friend to borrow for the Collings WWII weekend in the fall, so I was able to see how it looked with the rest of my uniform (there are some pictures of her wearing it at the link). It doesn't match exactly, but it looks pretty good!

Then over the winter another friend sent an original WAC cap my way. I didn't worry about the size, because I don't plan to wear it for events (as it turns out, it's really close--just a hair too small), but I wanted to see what an original Hobby hat was like, and to compare it to my repro.  

So here is a tale of two hats! A couple of notes to keep in mind:

-I haven't done anything to re-shape the original, but some steaming/shaping was done by Quinn when she wore the repro (it was badly crushed during shipping)

-Both hats are sporting original enlisted insignia (I purchased an insignia on eBay for the repro)

-The hats have different buttons (original-Bakelite, repro-brass), but both are correct to different periods of the war

-Neither is stuffed in these images, so they're both a little floppy

-I didn't take measurements, as the hats are different sizes

Now on to the hats:

my original Hobby hat (left) and reproduction (right)--you can see there are some differences, but they're pretty similar overall

a close up to show the fabric and color differences--the colors are more different in person, but I think this is mostly due to the white threads in the serge the reproduction is made out of. I believe the original is wool (same material as the rest of the uniform)
in profile, the original is a bit taller but other wise the shapes are similar

close-up of the original band and button--the Bakelite eagle button indicates this was an earlier issue

the reproduction band and button--the brass eagle button is still accurate, just for later in the war. the white topstitching on the band (and elsewhere) less so
an above brim comparison--the original (top) appears to have a rounder/curvierbrim shape than the reproduction (bottom), but again they're decently close
insides--both lined in something shiny, with a twill band. the original (right) has some serious staining on the inside, as well as a plastic piece sewn to the lining at the crown (to help hold its shape?)
name tag in the original cap from its owner--I googled her and couldn't find much, but there was one Army record of a Mabel Adams from Baton Rouge, LA, who enlisted August 1943 and is listed in the 26-30 age range

size tag on the original, and you can see more of the plastic piece on the crown
wearing the original (please ignore the post-gym attire...)

wearing the reproduction--the color difference is much more notable here. I did make an effort to order my hat size, but this was somewhat larger than expected--I'm not sure if that's because these run large, or because I rounded up on my measurement (I was worried about fitting styled hair underneath). I haven't tried it on with my hair done yet, but it's possible I need to order a size down.
I hope that this comparison is useful to anyone considering buying a reproduction WAC cap! Overall, I have to say that mine is pretty good, and if you're not too picky about matching pieces, it's a great addition a WAC impression. I'm excited to wear mine in the field!

16th company, 3rd regiment, 1944 at the WAC training center in Fort Des Moines, IA
*I'm using WAC in this post because that's what I'll be doing, but the WACs were initially founded as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), and much of what I'm discussing deals with WAC history when it was still the WAACs. I'm sticking to WAC for simplicity, but throwing that out there.

For more on WAC uniforms:

Blitzkrieg Baby (if you're a reenactor, I also recommend her forum!)

Dressed for Duty (volumes 1 and 2), Jill Halcomb Smith

US Army Women's Museum (Ft Lee, VA)

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