Every society has its status symbols, its hierarchies and its secret associations. I was flabbergasted to discover that Austria’s powerful matriarchal hierarchy parades its secret symbols in broad daylight.
I have hastily cobbled together this anthropological scoop for you to enjoy before it goes to print in National Geographic and you have to pay fifteen bucks to read it, sandwiched in between a story about naked Masai women and a report on beached southern right whales.
The Fuzzy Hat: A privilege, not a right
The primary totemic symbol of Austrian womanhood is known as the ‘fuzzy hat’. Pictured below are participatory members adorned with the totem in their native urban habitat.
The hierarchy appears to be age-based; best estimates are that inductees will generally be given their training hat at around age 45-50. Training hats can be identified by their lack of fuzziness – they are generally similar in appearance to a beret, or in rare cases, a crocheted tea-cosy.
Magnificent head-plumage (‘Kopfgefieder‘), such as that pictured below, identifies the wearer immediately as a society elder. It is important to note that the degree of fuzziness is strictly related to age and rank. These luxurious examples indicate that these women have reached the apex of their respective hierarchies.
Age alone, however, is not enough to guarantee the wearer the right to adorn themselves with fuzz. Auxiliary members of the tribe can be identified by their substitution of other headwear for the fuzzy hat, such as a traditional brimmed hat or an embroidered or even upholstered headpiece. These substitute headpieces are particularly often teamed with traditional dress.
The fuzzy hat appears to be an important sartorial element in a variety of ceremonial activities. In a rural environment, it is uniformly worn to village church sermons, but may also feature in local shopping expeditions. In urban centres, it is not unusual to see fuzzy hat-wearers mingling with more junior beret-wearers. This leads us to suspect that hierarchical lines become more blurred in cities, although this has yet to be confirmed by empirical study.
The details of the handing-over ceremony, or Wuschelüberreichung, are concealed from the uninitiated. We can only surmise that many hats are exchanged on significant birthdays, from 45 onwards. Wearers younger than this have not yet been spotted in the wild.