The Winter Cap Controversy

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 7, 2021, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Winter caps are a fascinating type of headgear to observe this time of year. Wikipedia lists over 60 different kinds of “caps,” and caps are considered winter headgear. When I was a child in the 1930’s and 1940’s, winters in Lee County, where I lived, were colder than they are today in Wharton County. I have very vivid memories of my winter caps, memories re-enforced by family photographs.

            Because I was fascinated with flying and with airplanes, both double-winged and single winged, the first winter cap I remember was known as an “aviator cap,” which was made for kids to look like the ones aviators (pilots) wore then. I have a photograph of my brother and me on our tricycles in the snow, proudly wearing our aviator caps, which came with goggles (I suppose to keep the snow out of your eyes).

            Since the aviator caps did not come in larger sizes, we wore ours every winter until they were too small for us and couldn’t be pulled down all the way to snap under the chin. Still, we insisted on wearing them until they absolutely would not fit! It was at that point my mother bought us each a new winter cap which we and other German-Wendish-American folks called a “Zipfelmuetze.” I hated the new cap!

            Actually, it was a knitted cap with a pom-pom on top, but not really a “Zipfelmuetze,” which would have been even more outlandish-looking to me. A true “Zipfelmuetze,” very popular in parts of Germany, was a knitted cap with a very long tail and a pom-pom at the end of the tail. The long tail of the cap was used to wrap around your neck like a scarf. But my family called all knitted winter caps “Zipfelmuetzen.”

            When my brother and I stubbornly refused to wear those conservative knitted caps without a tail, my mother told us we had to wear earmuffs with our baseball caps. In those days, we had to walk to school, even in winter, and I remember how fierce the cold, north wind was blowing in our face, especially, ears. We needed to wear a cap covering the ears! We were dismayed! Earmuffs were just as awful looking as knitted caps with pom-poms! “But, Mama,” we moaned, “there are other kinds of winter caps!”

            Most of the farm boys going to Dime Box Rural School with us wore corduroy Broner outdoor caps with ear flaps, — these were widely worn by hunters and other men who spent a lot of time outdoors. Broner started making these caps in 1933, and they became extremely popular. In our eyes, those were more manly-looking winter caps than what my mother was buying for us. And we were too old for aviator caps!

            My father stayed out of the cap controversy. Photographs of him as a boy show him wearing a woolen “newsboy” or “flat cap” with ear flaps, very popular headgear for boys in the early 1900’s. As an adult working for the railroad, he wore an engineer’s cap without ear flaps, thus with his ears exposed. Prone to frequent earaches, my brother and I were made to wear ear-coverings of some kind.

            In those years, none of us knew about “trapper” or “Chapka” caps, made of fur, and which looked like headgear worn in Siberia. My wife’s aunt gave me a Chapka cap (which I called a Russian cap) for Christmas when my wife and I were in graduate school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was made of faux fur, but extremely warm and perfect for a Michigan winter. Not sure as a kid, though, I would have worn one of those.

            My brother and I just wanted to look like the other boys in our little country town, and believe me, none of the other boys wore earmuffs or caps with pom-poms. Cutting the pom-poms off the top, we did wear our knitted caps for a while. My mother finally gave in and bought us corduroy outdoor caps with ear flaps, especially since Grandpa wore one.

            The cap controversy seems so silly now, but back then it was a big deal! No doubt, winter caps are still a big deal among young boys today!


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, a retired LCMS pastor, and author of two books, It Must Be the Noodles and Open Prairies.

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