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I have seen the phrase "Gay as Dad's old hatband" more than once in twentieth century American fiction. I think it is playing on the double meaning of gay, but what is the happy (bright colored?) hatband that is being referred to?

Edit:

Quote found in "Needful Things" by Steven King (1991) "George T. Nelson, the high school wood shop teacher. George T. Nelson, who, under his bluff, macho exterior, was just as gay as old dad's hatband."

Edit #2:

Steven King must really like this phrase. A Google Books search also lists it in "The Dark Tower" and "Mile 81".

  • I'm thinking boater or skimmer, with sometimes brightly colored grosgrain band, associated with barbershop quartets and political conventions and generally early twentieth-century Americana. – Brian Donovan Jul 1 '14 at 3:57
  • It is literally a band that goes around a hat: amazon.com/Youth-Stripe-Hat-Band-Fedora/dp/B00KTG4MZO – Jim Jul 1 '14 at 5:45
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    Depends how old the references are but I'd think gay is just being used to mean colourful/bright/showy. Gay for homosexual probably didn't start until 1960 something. – Frank Jul 1 '14 at 7:50
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Gay could have a couple meanings in this case, but only one meaning literally applies to the comparison "as dad's old hatband". See definitions #1, #4, and #5 on dictionary.com and search Google Images for hatbands for reference.

1. of, pertaining to, or exhibiting sexual desire or behavior directed toward a person or persons of one's own sex; homosexual: a gay couple.

4. Older Use. bright or showy: gay colors; gay ornaments. Synonyms: colorful, brilliant, vivid, intense, lustrous; glittering, theatrical, flamboyant. Antonyms: dull, drab, somber, lackluster; conservative

5. Older Use. having or showing a merry, lively mood: gay spirits; gay music.

King may be informing you that Nelson is gay in the sexual sense, but the comparison "gay as dad's old hatband" is using the term in the brightly colored or jolly sense.
Since the usage of "gay" to mean "exuberant" could be obvious in the context of describing the character, the part about him being non-heterosexual would be a double entendre.

King could be getting at a few things here:
1) that although Nelson does not outwardly portray it, he is a flamboyant [brightly colored, like the hatband dad wore] homosexual at heart.
2) he could be using the other two meanings in conjunction to describe that Nelson is passionately joyful and loving, despite his gruff outward appearance.
Or, 3) some combination thereof (the ambiguity seems to be purposeful on King's part).

Reference: King uses the phrase "gay as old Dad's hatband" to describe an LGBTQ character.

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    I've never heard this expression, but I have come across "queer as Dick's hatband" in a 19th century context (meaning peculiar, not gay). See worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-dic2.htm – Kate Bunting Sep 14 '16 at 15:48
  • @Kate After rereading my answer, it is kind of a leap to assume King was implying non-heterosexuality. He may have just meant joyful and exuberant. I have edited the answer to provide more context. Thank you for pointing this out. – Oran D. Lord Oct 12 '16 at 10:48
  • @OranD.Lord - I've never read much Steven King, so can't say about his writing in particular, but one should understand that perhaps up until 2000 many writers were fighting a "rear guard action", attempting to preserve the pre-1960 meaning of the term "gay". So it's possible that an author would use "gay" in the older sense, even while knowing that that was not the "popular" understanding of the term. – Hot Licks Oct 12 '16 at 12:05

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