Sunday, June 7, 2009

Men without hats

VW used the same sales brochure to promote the 1500 Karmann-Ghia from 1961–64, updating its written content and changing and/or retouching some images to keep things up to date. It's interesting to see what they thought needed to be updated (obvious improvements like the 1500S engine, of course, but some minor details too) and what they left alone. And it wasn't just the car that got updated: sometime in 1963 the owner lost his hat. Why would VW go to the trouble and expense of removing his hat of all things?

The first few years of 1500 Ghia production coincided with the time when custom no longer required men to wear hats. An old urban legend blamed/credited President John F. Kennedy for the decline in hat wearing, but it's more likely that he just helped to popularize a trend that had already started years before.

But if you're VW and you have cars to sell, you have a decision to make. At what point are the advantages of a hat (demonstrating headroom, implying sophistication and upward mobility) outweighed by the disadvantages (possibly appearing stodgy, old fashioned, and conservative)? Maybe Kennedy did have something to do with VW's decision after all -- he gave his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in June 1963.

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