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Sir Top, Sir Topham Hatt, he's the head of the railway...

"There's a reason you people all have fancy hats. Earn them."
Gilgamesh Wulfenbach, Girl Genius

In a hierarchical organisation, especially of a military or religious nature, and in some professions, it's often easy to tell who's in charge by comparing the size of their hat (or other headgear). Especially in historical stories, the overall grandiosity of a hat is also a factor: plumage, gold braids, and metal emblems are indicators of Conspicuous Consumption and show wealth. The pompous Generalissimo may still have a hat like that today. note  If only one person has a hat, that one is definitely the leader. Conversely, if every member has protective headgear but one, the bareheaded one is the leader, because Helmets Are Hardly Heroic.

Certain hats always convey authority:

  • Cool Crown
  • Commissar Cap
  • Press Hat
  • A bishop's mitre or cardinal's galero, especially when worn by The Pope
  • Top hat or stovepipe hat
  • Sufficiently fancy turban
  • A chef's hat, or toque, at least within the kitchen

In military groups where everyone has a helmet, the leader's will be marked out in some way, probably by being a special color such as red or gold, and it will have extra stars or doodads on it to boot. This is rare nowadays in a combat setting as it is like wearing a "shoot me" sign for an enemy sniper, as they are trained to shoot officers as a priority.

A hat of authority may or may not also be a Hat of Power.


Examples:

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    Art 
  • Liberty Leading the People: The rich man with the blunderbuss is wearing a fancy top hat to show his status.
  • In Imperial Roman art, generals and emperors are often depicted wearing or carrying Hellenistic Greek helmets such as the Attic type long after ordinary troops had begun wearing Celtic-influenced helmets. To date, none of these Greek-style Roman helmets have been found from Imperial times, so it's possible that this is just an artistic holdover from earlier ages and they weren't actually wearing them in real life by then.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In vol.s 6 and 7 of Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto, Cesare Borgia, 16-year-old Bishop of Pamplona, wears elegantly decorated robes and a mitre when he officiates at the Advent mass in the cathedral of Pisa.
  • In Endride, only one character, Demetrio, gets a hat, so he's the leader of the Ignauts.
  • Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Stardust Crusaders: Senator Wilson Phillips, who is effectively held hostage by DIO in the final arc, dons his diplomatic hat and it is never seen falling off his head. However, this is not the same for the OVA, where it gets knocked from atop his melon.
  • Zeff of One Piece is the head chef and owner of the floating restaurant Baratie, and his chef hat is so ridiculously tall that its tip often cannot be seen.

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: of course the world's richest duck Scrooge McDuck wears a fancy top hat. It's particularly more imposing than the sailor cap of nephew Donald Duck and the baseball caps of Donald's nephews. And the authority is tenfold given how much of a skilled adventurer he is.
  • Kid Colt (2009): Sherman Wilks, the main antagonist of the series, wears a stovepipe hat and a more formal outfit than the unruly 'bounty killers' he leads, which immediately makes it clear that he's the man in charge.
  • In the Marvel Universe, Master Mold can be distinguished as the leader of the Sentinels by his oversized, crown-like forehead.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Volume 1: While all non-slave Uranians wear headgear at all times Lord Uvo's pointed helm-hat is notably different and more distinguished than those of the rank and file.
    • Volume 2: The kreel of the Sangtee Empire are Never Bareheaded but their Emperor has by far the fanciest hat, a sort of gilded and heavily embroidered mitre-turban combination.

    Comic Strips 
  • Knights of the Dinner Table: Hackbeard campaign, a pirate's hat size is directly linked to their level of authority. Sara gets in trouble when she turns up wearing a larger hat than the captain.
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • When they attempt a venture to the Yukon, Calvin claims leadership by dint of his snazzy commander helmet. Hobbes decides to remedy this and takes the helmet, whereupon Calvin declares mutiny and storms off.
    • An iffy case is the duo's wearing of paper hats during meetings of club G.R.O.S.S. Because they're the only members the hats don't have unique significance, but are said to represent their holding various titles within the club.
  • Curtis: When Curtis attends church services, he comments on the elaborate hats that the church ladies wear, which puts his little brother Barry in stitches. It's inferred that these hats denote their social standing, with the most ostentatious hat marking the Queen Bee.

    Fan Works 
  • Empath: The Luckiest Smurf: Papa Smurf's red hat becomes a symbol of authority when in the alternate timeline explored by Traveler Smurf in "Papa Smurf & Mama Smurfette", Empath takes Papa Smurf's red hat off his head and replaces it with a white hat while he takes off his own star-patterned hat and replaces it with the red hat, signifying that he was now taking over leadership of the Smurf Village in outright rebellion to Papa Smurf after Papa marries Smurfette and has a child through her.
  • Glorious Echeladder Ascension Technique: In chapter 15, the characters are very impressed with the hat worn by the captain of the ship they're taking passage on, which is described as a peaked and imposing thing that looks like it could command a ship by itself.
  • Averted by Charlene Bellis in the Thomas & Friends Dark Fic Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure Bad Ending, who succeeds Sir Topham Hatt after the Harwick Disaster. She doesn't usually wear a hat, but is nonetheless every bit the controller her predecessor was.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • This was very apparent in Gangs of New York. You can tell the person's standing in a gang by the size of their top hat. Bill "the Butcher" Cutting has the tallest stovepipe hat of all.
  • In NapolĂ©on (1927), the title character's iconic bicorne is apparently the only way people recognize his authority, as he's taken for a peasant by people who came to thank him for saving France when he takes it off.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • When Jack Sparrow offers to serve under Barbossa as Commodore in exchange for remaining captain of the Black Pearl, one of the things he offers is to buy him a big floppy hat. (Jack himself is also very fond of his own hat for what it symbolizes.)
    • The design team very deliberately gave Davy Jones the biggest hat on the Flying Dutchman. It also has devil horns.
  • The Mountie: Along with his scarlet tunic, Corporal Grayling wears the distinctive 'lemon-squeezer' hat of the Mounties as a symbol of his authority. Although it is badly battered, he is very attached to the hat, and takes care to retrieve it after he uses it as an Outfit Decoy. At the end of the film, he rides back into Merci sporting a spiffy new Mountie hat, to go with the reinstated sergeant's stripes on his sleeve.
  • Ajak is the only member of the Eternals whose uniform includes a hat to signify that she's the team leader.

    Literature 
  • Discworld
    • In Going Postal Moist von Lipwig learns that the office of Postmaster comes with a hat, a golden one with wings no less. It also comes with a pair of winged sandals and a fig-leaf thong (a costume of Fedecks, messenger of the gods), which Moist passes up in favor of a golem-tailored gold suit.
    • In Making Money the chairman of the Royal Bank also has a hat, in this case a rather frayed top hat. Moist immediately festoons it up with glitter and gold leaf.
    • The Archchancellor of Unseen University has the sole right to wear the Archchancellor's Hat. Originally it contained the knowledge of all the Archchancellors to have come before; that hat disappeared (much to the relief of the wizards, since past Archchancellors are just as opinionated as current ones) in Sourcery, and the current version is just a very nice hat, but still symbolically important. When in Unseen Academicals the Dean leaves to become Archchancellor of a rival university, there is friction between him and Ridcully over who gets the Hat, because there can be only one Archchancellor. Vetinari suggests they play football for it.
    • Witches are recognized by their pointy hats. After all, if a real witch caught a fake one wearing a pointy hat, there would be trouble, so no one who isn't a witch would dare wear a pointy hat. Agnes, who is in two minds about everything, doesn't think the hat suits her figure, especially with black ("It made her look like someone had dropped a licorice flavoured ice cream cone"), but her other half Perdita is correct that the hat carries a lot of weight in the Ramtop mountains.
    • Not an actual hat, but the trope is referenced in Night Watch, when Vimes (as John Keel) manipulates his way into the rank of 'sergeant-at-arms,' and gets his stripes complete with a crown above it to denote it. When Sergeant Knock tries to throw his weight around, "Keel" shuts him down by pointing it out. "See this, Sergeant? It's what they used to call the Hat of Authority."
    • In Reaper Man, Death is fired from his job, and a New Death comes into being to take over. Death is disgusted when he meets his replacement, as he wears a crown showing he considers himself the ruler of mortal-kind, whereas Death never saw himself this way.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Aes Sedai wear colour-coded shawls to indicate their status. Their leader, the Amyrlin Seat, and her Number Two, the Keeper of the Chronicles, each wear a stole, the former in all seven colors. As with pre-gunpowder militaries in real life, rank among soldiers is often indicated by extra plumes or crests on one's helmet.
  • In Gods of Mars, the Therns wear yellow wigs as a sign of office (and to hide the fact that they're all bald.)
  • In The Borders Of Infinity Miles explains the air of command to Tris by challenging her to see his imaginary hat of authority.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: In "Public Property on Parade", the Mayor of Madison is seen either wearing his top hat or carrying it about.
  • On Are You Being Served?, one episode centered around that Mr. Rumbold was allowed to wear a top hat, but Captain Peacock, who worked under Rumbold, couldn't. However, Captain Peacock could wear a bowler, but the sales clerks somewhat under him couldn't, even one who was older than Peacock. They could wear caps.
  • The Time Lords' headdresses on Doctor Who.
  • The Syfy adaptation of Dune, having an incredibly low budget, made extensive use of elaborate hats to denote ranks and factions.
  • Keeping Up Appearances: Hyacinth usually wears a hat when out of doors to reflect her self-perceived grand status, and usually makes Richard wear one as well. In "Rural Retreat", she makes Richard choose between two of her hats; when he completely fails to do so, she accuses him of being "unfaithful to her hats". When Elizabeth offers to help Hyacinth with directing drivers around the car park, Hyacinth's reply is:
    Hyacinth: I think not, dear. You're not wearing a hat.
  • In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, a plot focusing on Francis in military school saw the guys' TV get taken away, and Francis leading a hunger strike against his erstwhile nemesis Edwin Spangler... which culminates in Spangler finally negotiating with Francis, standing there woozy and confused from hunger, until it fades from "Allow me to discuss teeeerrmmms" to "I GOT HIS MAGIC HAT!" (The other guys don't take blowing this chance very well, and Francis comes off worse for it, but one is heard commenting, "I think this hat really is magic!" for his indoor golf game.)

    Music 

    Pinballs 
  • Hook never depicts Captain Hook without his large and ornate feathered hat.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer Fantasy: The Chaos Dwarfs faction runs on this trope. Chaos Dwarfs love their giant hats, and the higher the rank a Chaos Dwarf commands in Hashut's priesthood and hierarchy, the larger, shinier and blinged-out with skulls and spikes said hat tends to be. On the opposite side, the Infernal Legion (which is made up of shamed and dishonoured Chaos Dwarfs given the choice between joining the Legion or execution) have uniform and standard full-faced helmets literally welded to their heads, preventing the use of any other headwear.
  • Warhammer40000, aside from giving us the Commissar Cap has a number of other examples. For instance some Inquisitors have a fondness for high peaked and wide brimmed hats with the Inquisitorial "I" on the front, such as the Witchhunter from Dawn of War 2, as seen here (that Ork's hat probably counts too).
    • How commissars show authority.
    • In fact, orks have come to realize that humans depend on hats to show authority (unlike orks, humans don't grow bigger the more orks they have under their command), and thus looting their hats is as good a sign as any of leadership. Sometimes the hat is worn on the original owner's head on a spike.
    • The Inquisition hats started life on Empire Witch Hunters in Warhammer before migrating over. They have since disappeared from the original miniature range, though they still exist in Warhammer Online.
    • Among the Ultramarines, you can pick out their squad leaders by their red helmets compared to the blue of their battle-brothers. Veterans get white helmets instead (their sergeants get red helmets with a white stripe).
    • Empire unit leaders in Warhammer still tend to be identified by having fluffier or otherwise snazzier hats than their compatriots.

    Theatre 
  • Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto has a scene with cardinals in red robes and mitres, but the most impressive one is worn by Archbishop Raffaele Riario later, when he presides over Giovanni de'Medici's graduation and admission into the college of cardinals.

    Video Games 
  • de Blob: Comrade Black's Commissar Cap is bigger than the helmets worn by his underlings. He makes sure not to lose it, even when deprived of all his other clothes, possibly because he would be indistinguishable from any other Inky without it.
  • Puzzle Pirates: Certain hats can only be worn if the pirate in question is an officer (or better) in their crew, and only the royals of a flag are allowed to wear crowns.
  • Cave Story: Jack, second-in-command of the Mimiga Village, wears a distinctive ushanka.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II: The ornate, feathered Noble Hat convinces viewers that the wearer is a Blue Blood, unlocking "Noble" Dialogue Tree options. This is the only way for a non-Noble player character to speak with Lady Paulina Kemm.
  • Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora: Overlapping with Fedora of Asskicking, hats are a big deal since only detectives from the Depot can wear fedoras. Franky is the first cat to join the Depot, thus making her The Cat That Wore A Fedora. Franky's fans even wear cardboard fedoras.
  • Peret em Heru: For the Prisoners: Although it is a relatively ordinary backwards baseball cap, Ayuto Asaki's hat is what gets him noticed by Professor Tetsuya Tsuchida and hand-picked as the group's scout, with Tsuchida remarking that said hat was what made him stood out. Considering that Professor Tsuchida is not an active man due to his old age and Sae Otogi, the tour guide, quickly loses control of her wards, Ayuto ends up as the de facto leader.
  • Shantae: The Pirate Girl Risky Boots, self-proclaimed Queen of the Seven Seas, wears a pirate hat large enough for the smaller Shantae to use as an Improvised Parachute in Shantae and the Pirate's Curse. The same game also revealed that the hat used to belong to Risky's Evil Mentor, the Pirate Master. It was part of the pirate gear that Risky claimed as her own along with his crew after he was sealed by the Genies.
  • Splatoon:
    • Cap'n Cuttlefish, a decorated veteran of the Inkling military, wears a dark blue peaked cap with a gold insignia emblazoned on it in the first game, and a nearly-identical white one (turned backwards) in the second game. When he retires and hands over his position to the original Agent 3 in Splatoon 3, he gives them the dark blue cap along with it.
    • Octarian leader DJ Octavio wears a large golden kabuto helmet with an elaborate octopus-shaped emblem on the front, with him swapping it out for a black kabuto helmet with gold accents and a more subtle octopus emblem in the sequel.
  • Streets of Rogue: The end goal of the game is taking the Mayor's top hat, thereby taking all his authority with it and becoming the new mayor in a matter of seconds.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Ardanian soldiers all wear full body armor including face-concealing helmets. Your average mook wears a simple helmet with an iron little cross at the top, but commanders wear hats with a tall metal cone on top to distinguish them.

    Web Comics 
  • Avania: Admiral Von Strackte sports an ornate bicorn hat on the cover of issue 6. To a lesser extent, Major Beckinridge and Sergeant Hartwin are both often seen wearing caps befitting their ranks.
  • The Jaegers in Girl Genius always wear hats and consider the loss of such as an extreme dishonor. Because Jaeger tradition requires that hats be either taken by trickery or force, or rarely bestowed as a sign of respect, hat quality among them shows not authority so much as badassery, which may as well be the same thing for them. When they decide to doll up Gil as a sign of respect, they produce a hat of epic proportions. Gil hates it, but when he needs to get into the center of his father's command, showing off the hat is enough to persuade most of the guards.
  • Poison Ivy Gulch: Being the mayor of the town, Mayor Samuel Sidewinder is always seen wearing a hat with a big brim extending out as far as his Gag Nose.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal's take on the pope's hat.
  • Tales of the Questor: Racconan mages use pointy Wizard Classic hats as symbols of rank, with power being denoted by the height of the central point while versality is denoted by the breadth of the brim.

    Web Original 
  • Empires SMP: While most of the rulers and leaders wear crowns to demonstrate their authority should they choose to do so, there's a couple who use hats to do so instead.
    • In Season 1, Gem has a cloak and a big hat as part of her usual attire as the Grand Wizard of the Crystal Cliffs.
    • In Season 2, Jimmy wears a large Sheriff Hat to show he's "the Law" of the server.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Fairly Oddparents, Doug Dimmadome, Owner of the Dimmsdale Dimmadome, is ostensibly one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in town. Accordingly, he wears a Stetson that is so tall it usually stretches out of frame.
  • In Gravity Falls, Stan Pines is almost always seen wearing a distinctive fez. In "Boss Mabel", when he goes on vacation and puts Mabel in charge, at first she tries to be a "nice boss" and lets everyone walk all over her, but when her laid-back management style leaves the Mystery Shack in shambles, she's forced to become stricter and more assertive, at which point Stan's fez lands on her head symbolically.
    • In the finale, when Stan hands over the Mystery Shack to Soos, he symbolically places the fez on his head.
  • The Fat Controller from Thomas & Friends wears a black top hat complete with his black suit and grey trousers, which goes well with him being named Sir Topham Hatt. He is also the owner of the North Western Railway and serves as the stern but fair Father to His Men to his engines.
  • Parodied in SpongeBob SquarePants during "Squid's Day Off", when Squidward gives Spongebob a "promotion" so he doesn't have to do anything. This is marked by Spongebob now wearing two hats.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In Pakled society, whoever wears the bigger hat is in charge. When Captain Freeman is sent to Pakled Planet to negotiate a ceasefire in "The Spy Humongous", every Pakled she meets keeps claiming they aren't wearing a hat big enough to negotiate ceasefires. This includes the Pakled King and Queen, until the Pakled Emperor finally shows up with the biggest hat. Then a group of revolutionaries storm the palace and assassinate the Emperor. One of the revolutionaries then puts on his hat and declares himself to be the new Emperor.
  • The 1951 Looney Tunes cartoon "The Wearing of the Grin" has two peculiar leprechauns mess around with Porky Pig, who'd taken shelter in their castle. When O'Mike gets antsy about the stranger, thinking Porky is there to seize their pot of gold, O'Pat dons the frilliest, greenest, shamrockiest headdress ever, and announces that, as Chief Leprechaun, they'll play mind games with Porky. O'Mike contritely goes along.
  • The Simpsons: The leader of The Stonecutters, known only as "Number One", wears a large hat with the group's logo on it to mark his status. Dr. Hibbert also wears a hat, and The Simpsons: Tapped Out would later reveal that he was Number Two of the organisation. When Homer is revealed to be the Chosen One he's given an even larger hat than Number One to mark his status.

    Real Life 
  • As mentioned above, hats are indicative of ecclesiastical as well as secular ranks. In most religions, there are a handful of basic hat designs that only clergy can wear. Christianity, meanwhile, goes for the gusto with variations, from the galero and mitre worn by popes and bishops, to the more impractically ostentatious Papal tiara, to the capirote which has been supplanted in American understanding by the abuses of the Ku Klux Klan.
    • Moreover, among churchgoers, hats are often an indicator of social status, especially among women. In this case, both size and detail help to establish the pecking order in these social gatherings.
  • Abraham Lincoln is known for his tall stovepipe hat, which he used to carry his papers. This became a tradition for a while, with most Presidents wearing top hats at certain events and inaugurations until Kennedy changed the style.
  • Sir John A. Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, was also known for wearing a top hat.
  • In various wars, officers in authority took to not wearing a distinct uniform and/or hat because the enemy was aware of them and would target said fancy hat-wearing people as a priority.
  • The Doges of Venice were famous all across Europe for wearing their Corno Ducale.Translation
  • Taking cues from the Etruscans and the Greeks, Romans are often depicted as wearing helmets with crests on them in several circumstances, and while this does have some basis later on (and especially when gladiators wore helmets), centurions and senior staff were the only ones who wore crests on their helmets, so as to be easily identifiable to their subordinates. Later on, as crests became more common, the centurions and senior staff turned their crests sideways instead to still be visually distinct.
  • War bonnets worn by Plains Indians are made of decorated eagle feathers. Each of these feathers is given to recognize a great deed, whether in battle or in diplomacy. The requirements to earn such a feather are high enough that a brave warrior might earn only two or three such feathers in their life. Now consider what it means for someone to have a hat's worth of those.

 
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Big Helmet Equals Big Power

The Pakled's hierarchy is determined by who has the biggest helmet.

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