A Feather in My Cap

While walking the dog, I found a small feather on the trail. As I was wearing a hat with a band, I picked the feather up and inserted in the band.

I put a feather in my cap!

This led to some pondering  as to the nature of the expression and the custom of wearing feathers in head gear. It is supposed to mean achievement, or reward for success. The takeaway for me is that, as is common with fashion statements–even minor acts that look backward and reinterpret an historical gesture–consequences do accrue.

There is the patriotic motif: the British song, Yankee Doodle (who stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni) was meant as ridicule. We turned that around and make it an ennobling ballad of the Revolutionary War, even if, to this day, few kids in elementary school ask why anyone would confuse a feather with pasta.

And there is sexuality: wearing feathers has been both a masculine and feminine gender sign.  In the 19th century, a fashion trend for ostrich plumes, possibly triggered by the Duchess of Devonshire (who was involved in an infamous menage a trois), has indicated flamboyant sexuality as well as progressive democratic politics, as the Duchess was aligned with Sir Charles James Fox , the leader of the Whig opposition in Parliament. The popularity of the Duchess fashion statement encouraged so much hunting ostriches that the bird nearly became extinct.

For men, the feather must go on the left side of the hat. Costume designers for the Robin Hood films starring Eroll Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks in the Robin Hood films did not care that wearing the feather on the right side of the hat connoted homosexuality.

In American tribal cultures, a feather is an empowering, anthropomorphic icon that relates directly to the mythologies and sacred spiritualities of birds. A single feather worn in a head band of a young man indicated youthfulness, or, as in the case of a similar Hungarian custom, showed the community that this warrior had killed an enemy. The matched feathered war bonnets in which some tribal leaders were photographed can be likened to match sets of pearls in that feathers were very rare. Assembled in a headpiece, they symbolized status, wisdom and gravitas.

For me, it was just one more little thing for which to be grateful on a beautiful spring morning.



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