Four years ago, singer Aretha Franklin’s hat was a surprise star at President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony. But this year, the media and Twitterverse were mesmerized by another headpiece: the skullcap of Justice Antonin G. Scalia.
The peaked hat was lampooned on the internet. The New York Daily News described it as “a velvety cap that looked like a beret on steroids.” Folks on Twitter called it everything from a “Vatican Palace Guard’s hat” to a headpiece of a “mad medieval monk.” Even Sen. Claire McCaskill got in on the ribbing, Tweeting pictures (like the one above) of Scalia with snarky comments and the hashtag #Scaliaweirdhat. (To be fair, the senator also goofed on “Breyer’s scaliawannabe hat, Kennedy’s stocking cap” and “Alito in the shades.”)
But it turns out that Scalia’s outfit choice was grounded in tradition. The National Law Journal’s Tony Mauro notes that the black cornered skullcaps have been worn by justices at cold-weather outdoor events for decades, though they’ve fallen in and out of favor over the years. Scalia apparently takes his history quite seriously: law professor Kevin C. Walsh explains that the item Scalia wore yesterday was a custom-made replica of the hat depicted in a famous portrait of St. Thomas More, and was a gift to the justice from the St. Thomas More Society of Richmond.