I am a fan of hats and own a number of them. One of my collection is what is commonly called a "flat cap," though it has many names. Seeing me wearing it one day, my father told me that his father always used to call this style of hat a "go-to-hell hat."

I didn't know whether this was idiosyncratic or a common term but I didn't think much of it until I wore it to work one day. A coworker commented on the hat and I mentioned my grandfather's appellation and he, rather surprised, claimed that his grandfather had used the same term. Given that my grandfather lived in western Kansas his whole life, and his grandfather (as far as I know) lived in central Missouri, and neither knew the other, I feel like it would be a staggering coincidence if both men came up with the same odd name.

So, is the term "go-to-hell hat" in common usage? Is it specific to the Midwest?

  • According to Urban Dictionary, a "Go to Hell Hat" is another name for a flat cap. So named because the wearers (old men and hooligans) are very likely to tell you to go to hell. Nov 9 '12 at 18:30
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    Yes! My father (from SouthEast TN), who is 67, also calls them 'go to hell hats'!
    – user38612
    Mar 2 '13 at 20:06

I've never come across "go-to-hell hat" before, but it sounds dated and "rustic American" to me.

I doubt there's a particularly strong connection between this "adjectival" use of "go-to-hell", and "hats" in particular. Glancing through some of 5450 instances of "a go to hell" in Google Books (almost all describing some aggressively outrageous/extravagant object or attitude), I don't see a preponderance of "hats".

A more modern (if coarser) equivalent would probably be a fuck-off hat.

EDIT: I looked again, and it seems there is a strong association with "hat"...

GO-TO-HELL HAT — Garrison cap. Also known as overseas cap and fore and aft hat.

And, from FUBAR F---ed Up Beyond All Recognition: Soldier Slang of World War II - Page 82 overseas cap Garrison cap. Less restrained terms included "go- to-hell cap" and "cunt cap. For Marines, "piss-cutter" and "fore-and-aft cap".

Apparently, the one on the left is a "garrison cap". But to me, the one on the right is a "flat cap"...

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    Perhaps when the wearer is asked "What on earth is that on your head?" his reply gives the hat its name.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 9 '12 at 18:50
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    @AdamRedwine: Well, I didn't know any of this before I started answering (obviously!), but I can't help feeling perhaps your father didn't use the term very accurately. It definitely seems to mean one of those military "garrison caps" to most people who use the term, but you and I seem to have the same idea about what a "flat cap" is - and it ain't one of them! Nov 9 '12 at 19:09
  • ...I didn't like to call any more attention to it in the answer itself, having already gone a bit near the knuckle with fuck-off hat - but when I found cunt cap, I recognised that as a US Marines slang term (but none of the others). Perhaps your dad was just being euphemistic. Nov 9 '12 at 19:17
  • For what it's worth, I've heard the slang attributive adjective "fuck-off" (emphasis on the first syllable) used to mean "very large".
    – Billy
    Nov 10 '12 at 4:34

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