Reader Request: Winter Hats and Avoiding Hat-head

How to avoid hat head and hat hair

Margaret e-mailed me this question:

Minneapolis is cold. Syracuse is cold. To leave the house without a hat on your head when it’s 12 degrees outside is just insane. But what hat? And what do you do about hat head? Is there something I’m supposed to do to my hair to prevent hat head (like braid it)? Will I end up looking like Heidi? And if you just surrender and wear a hat all day in order to prevent hat head what type of hat should that be? If I wear a sock cap will I look like I stepped out of a grunge concert circa 1993? If I wear a beret will I look pretentious? Should I just be using the hood on my jacket?

For starters, do check out Audi’s guest post on selecting a flattering hat to fit your head shape, body, and style! Then come back here. Are you back yet? OK, good.

Now. Hat-head. There are as many ways to deal with this wintry condition as there are haircuts and hair types, and many techniques that work for some women will fail miserably for others. Remember to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent! Now let’s dig into a few possible hat-head work-arounds:

Do braids and ponytails

A cop-out? Perhaps. But wearing your hair up in a fairly tightly bound style is one of the only methods guaranteed to prevent hat-head. Your hat cannot crush your hair into a limp, frizzy mess if your hair has been stylishly pre-crushed.

Wear loose hat styles

Stiff brimmed hats like fedoras and close-fitting styles like stocking caps are among the most likely to mess up your ‘do. Knits with looser stitching – seen in certain trendy beanies and caps – won’t do as much damage. And unless you’re walking miles in a high wind, there’s no need for your hat to squeeze your noggin. Even a looser-fitting version will help you retain body heat.

Fluff upon arrival

I cannot braid my own hair, or throw it into a ponytail of any sort without looking deeply odd. But I CAN swing by an obliging bathroom whenever I arrive at my destination and do a quick touch-up with a splash of water and a comb. If your hair isn’t interested in water and combs, nab a travel bottle from the drug store and fill it with your preferred hair-fluffing product: Gel, pomade, cream, you name it. This means, of course, that you must hit your final destination a bit early to primp so if you’re chronically late, consider another solution!


If you’re someone who can do curly/wavy or straight, you likely already know that straight or straightened hair is less susceptible to hat-head. Not helpful to anyone who cannot or does not want to straighten her locks, and equally unhelpful if it’s snowing or raining since straightened hair tends to curl when wet, but if you’ve got the option …

Wear your hood instead

If you’re outside for mere minutes – dashing from building to car – consider doing a hooded coat instead. It’ll block the wind and keep you from freezing, but do less hair-crushing than an actual hat. If you don’t have a coat with an attached hood, you could also try a loosely tied scarf or a snood!

Don’t worry about it

We are our own worst critics. Unless your hair goes from perfectly coiffed to mangled mess once touched by a knit cap, your case of hat-head is probably very minor. And no one will point or laugh. If they do, throw your hat at them.

Image courtesy A Crafting We Will Go.

Originally posted 2013-01-28 06:44:31.

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30 Responses to “Reader Request: Winter Hats and Avoiding Hat-head”

  1. Viktoria

    I´m a dedicated hat-wearer. From about +5 degrees Celsius I will wear a hat – my ears are sensitive. I also don´t have a car and will walk or wait for buses, so often I wear a hat and a hood on top of that. Tightly tied around my face. I find a bun or, when my hair is shorter, a ponytail, is the only really hassle-free option. My bangs will, of course, often look a bit off, but when it´s -25, who cares? We´re all in the same boat, you know. No one will judge you.

    I can´t really answer for short or curly hair, but it looks like those who have it, manage more than well. I think the clue is to never ever wash your hair in the morning, and be frugal with styling product. If it´s totally dry and non-sticky, it will be less sensitive to the damage a hat can do.

  2. LinB

    Have very short hair, in an attempt to tame the wild, wavy mane that would otherwise live on my head, so … no buns or braids. Have tried loose hats; always try to wet and fluff my head hair after removing hat; wearing hood or loose scarf. Still have Hat Head. But, so does everyone else around me, except those who forego headgear and choose instead to risk hypothermia and/or frostbite. Sometimes I just leave the hat on all day.

  3. Dee

    As a person with straight, fairly fine hair, who must wear something on my head when its cold, I have found hoods to be the best for me. Honestly, I know longer will buy a winter (commuting) coat unless it has a hood. I still have a number of hats but find that the hood on my down coat really keeps my head and ears warm, without flattening my hair too much, Usally I can make it snug enough so that the wind won’t blow it down, either with snaps and or a tight scarf around the neck. My cloth coat hood is harder to keep up if its windy, but its not windy even a loose hood keeps quite a bit of the warm air in. I live in the Chicago and a good part of my commute is walking.
    Some women can get by with ear muffs – I look ridiculous in them, and honestly they only keep your ears warm, not your whole head. Its really trial and error with hats, hoods etc. When it really cold I just want to be warm so in the long run I don’t worry about it!

  4. Kris10

    Oooh, my hair is wavy/wiry and takes the shape of ANYTHING that touches it, until I wash or restyle it. (Except for curling irons, which my hair resists. Not cool.) Hats, headphones, ponytails, even a quick nap leave weird dents and bumps that stay all day. I finally settled on those behind the head earmuffs (180s, I think they’re called?) for subzero days in Nebraska. Now I live in Louisiana and have other hair issues 🙂

    But really, if anyone has a similar hair type, what do you do? I’ve never met anyone in the same boat.

  5. Erika

    I lived in Russia for a few years, and many women (including me eventually) used a barrette to gather the front half of their hair and clip in in kind of a half-up-do under their hats. Hard to describe (and hard to do with shorter hair, obviously). When they got somewhere, they’d take off their hat, remove the barrette, and shake/fluff, and it would look pretty good!

    • Ginger

      I roll mine up and clip it and then put the hat on. If I’m walking the tiny bit of steam from my head helps “set” the shape I create with the clip. If your hair is short a headband underneath the hat will hold the hair in the direction you want it to stay.

      I find that gel products hold better in this situation than hairspray.

  6. Lara

    The absolute best hat: a 5$ black beret from the military surplus store. Leather around the opening and loose enough to leave your hair alone but tight enough to stay put. Can be worn above the ears for a jaunty look or over them for a French arty take. Plus crams into any bag or pocket without fuss. I have worn mine (I’m on #2) for years and have received countless compliments.

  7. Veronica

    “This means, of course, that you must hit your final destination a bit early to primp so if you’re chronically late, consider another solution!” – This is why you are one of my favorite writers – you are completely based in reality!
    Love the last point too, maybe the most important one!

  8. Julia

    Here’s my trick: If I’m wearing my hair down that day, I pile my hair on the top of my head before putting on a hat. That way, if my hair conforms to the shape of the hat at all, it isn’t flat against my cheeks. Instead, it is getting some lift!

    • Ginger

      it works best if the hat has a higher crown so the pile of hair doesn’t get smashed.

  9. Susan

    For those with short hair who accept that hat-head and boots are just part of winter in cold climates, I can recommend an earband/headband and a hooded coat. You can remove the earband by running your hand through your hair, which also fluffs the fur a bit. If it’s snowing, I sometimes throw off the hood for a moment before stepping inside just to get a little moisture to work with.

    • Leiah

      Those behind-the-head earmuffs work really well if you’re wearing a ponytail. Hats always push my ponytail out of whack, so those earbands are a must!

  10. Carly

    New to the site, love it!

    Anyway, hat head…. My hair is wavy-curly, shoulder length and layered. I have a loose-ish bucket hat made of polar fleece for very cold days. I use small clips to lift my hair away from my scalp at the roots and hold it in the right place around my ears before putting my hat on, over the clips and all. When I get to work, I remove the hat and the clips, and I usually still have enough shape and lift to get by. I hope that helps someone!

  11. Marie

    Great thread for curly girls! I’ve always lived in Canadian cities and have bad hair from November to March because of my tuque. I am a foot commuter and hats leave dents and frizz after my long walk. Constant ponytail.

    I have been searching for a cute satin-lined winter hat, as they are supposed to help cut down the frizz created by wool or fleece. Has anybody seen any that would be good for very cold weather?

  12. Jennifer

    Luckily I don’t live in a particularly cold climate, so I don’t have to worry about hats most of the time, but I have an entirely different problem: my hair is so silky and slippery that no hat can stay on my head for long. I can put on a hat and watch it migrate to the top of my head within a minute. The only hat I can manage to keep on is my running cap because it has a built-in terry cloth sweatband which provides enough friction against my forehead to remain in place, but due to its airy material is utterly useless for winter wear.

  13. Claire

    I love wearing hats (and hoods) and have straight-ish, oily hair. Here’s my tip: I find that freshly washed hair with little to no product in it is the most hat-head resistant. Style hair as usual after washing, and place the hat/hood gently for minimal muss. Upon arrival, remove the hat and shake out your hair, tousle with your fingers, or even just flip your head over to bring back the body. I can do this several times before my hair starts to show any flattening, as long as it is freshly washed with minimal product.

  14. anotherjen

    I’m all for doing your best to ameliorate the problem and then not worrying about it. Chances are if it’s hat weather everyone around you has some form of hat-head too!

  15. Snow

    My major problem with hats is that I have long, extremely thick hair. It makes GIANT buns, rolls, braids, or anything else. If I put it up higher than the nape of my neck, then I literally can’t get hats to fit over top of it unless they are very loose. And a bun at the nape of my neck is very heavy and pushes my head forward uncomfortably when I’m driving.

    Cutting my hair shorter would actually make it harder to deal with. When it’s shorter than shoulder-length, it doesn’t have enough weight to counteract its volume, and I end up with huge big poofy-frizzy hair that requires a ton of styling to tame it.

    Generally, I end up putting my hair in a low braid or ponytail and wearing a loose-fitting black fleece bucket hat with a satin lining. It’s not the world’s most interesting or cutest hat, but it keeps my head and ears warm and doesn’t mess up my hair too much. I’ve had that hat for fifteen years and honestly don’t remember where it came from.

    Alternately, I’ve put my hair up and just wrapped a big scarf around my head and neck, rather than wearing a hat. I live in the Southeastern US and we have mild winters, so I don’t know if this would be enough in truly cold climates!

  16. Natalie

    I love wearing berets and tams for this reason – they’re looser and less likely to cause hat hair, but they can be very warm. There are many variations on the styles available, so you need not look pretentious. And most days, I can simply take off my beret when I arrive at the office & fluff my hair a bit & poof – no hat hair!

  17. Bree Bronson

    I live in Finland, the hat months are basically from September/October to March/April. I’ve chosen to go for a really long hair instead of short hair because I find it easier to do my hair somehow plain and simple when it’s long. And I use the “I don’t care” trick a lot as well. 😉

  18. Elspeth @ The Layman's Guide to Beer

    I live in Chicago and have mostly-straight fine hair that LOOOOOOVES to absorb oil from anything and everything it comes in contact with.

    My go-to winter hat is a black felt beret (direct from France, so it’s a stereotypical as you can get), which always looks chic but has enough volume to not mat down my hair. And yes, the one I have fits right so it never threatens to fall off. I think looser ones would warrant bobby pins, but they might not be as warm as mine.

    When it’s SUPER cold out, I wear a fleece-lined knit cap that comes down over my ears and that’s what really threatens hat-hair. I’ve gotten into the habit of wearing a silk scarf tied like a ‘kerchief, which protects my hair from transferring any oil from the hat and leaves my hair on the fluffy side rather than matted down. Not the most fashionable in the moment, but it makes me feel fashionable when I walk into work with A) warm ears and B) no hat hair.

  19. Geri

    I live in Ireland and commute by bus. My hair is really fine, gets greasy with the slightest bit handling and just gives up when it has to sit under a hat for too long. I prefer to wear it in a twisty bun and then wear a pashmina style scarf over my head, granny style, and a close fitting snood around my neck.when I arrive, I let my hair down, and the humidity can work in my favour sometimes because it starts to wave and curl. As for the rain, its constantly windy hear so umbrellas don’t really cut it: a jacket/coat with a hood is the only way to go.
    oh and all of the above paired with an “i don’t care” attitude!

  20. Aaakid

    I spend at least an hour outside every morning and generally wear a knitted cap. As soon as I take the cap off I try to fluff my hair and even so it really doesn’t look that great. Someone asked me about hat hair and I said I thought the best solution was to have low standards, which is probably the same as an “I don’t care” attitude.

    • LinB

      HAHAHAHA! “the best solution is to have low standards.” Love this!

  21. Caro

    I live in Canada and wear a series of knitted berets from about November through March. I have short, thick, straight hair, and I find that the beret style works best to prevent the dreaded hat hair. This only works, however, if the hat is worn around the head covering the ears and nape of the neck as opposed to sitting primarily on the top of the head.

  22. Jacque

    Great advice! Sometimes I don’t wear a hat to preserve my do, now I have tips on staying warm AND fashionable!

  23. Jenny

    I don’t wear hats in my way to work or dinner or anything. I can usually stand it in any weather if I have a coat and scarf around my neck. If I’m going to be out playing in the cold, I figure it doesn’t matter what my hat does to my head as I’m going to be dressed in enough layers to resemble the Michelin man.

  24. Heather

    I commute by bike, so in the summer I have to deal with helmet head and in the winter, I’ve got either a tight stocking cap or a balaclava under the helmet. My hair is just past my shoulders and curly/wavy. When I get to work, I take of the helmet and hat and finger comb my hair. I keep a bottle of California Baby de-tangler in my desk, and a spritz of that does pretty good at bringing smashed curls back to life. If finger combing and spritzing aren’t enough, I’ll put it in a ponytail or bun.

    On weekends, if I’m out running errands, I just leave the hat on all day.