A few weeks ago, the Athena Film Festival team gave director J. J. Abrams one of the famous Barnard Dad Hats, which have been out of the school’s store for over a year despite enduring popularity with students. This event inspired EIC (and Barnard Dad?) Betsy Ladyzhets to look into the source of the hat’s disappearance, and wax poetic on what they have meant to students.
Even if you think you’ve never seen one, you probably have: adorning a hapless father figure on move-in day, hung backwards on a bedpost in a Plimpton double, or accompanying a harried student grabbing lunch in the Diana Center. You’ve seen that rustic off-white fabric, that characteristic blue font, that proud brim. Even the CC first-years reading this will subconsciously recognize what I’m describing: the Barnard Dad Hat.
When I was a first-year two short years ago, these hats were everywhere. I could barely walk into Hewitt or scroll through my Instagram feed without catching sight of one, much like how I could barely do a lap around the Quad without hearing someone singing along to the Hamilton soundtrack. There was an air of pride about these hats, as though wearing one (especially backwards) signaled that you were truly embracing the Barnard spirit – not only wearing your school’s name with pride, but also offering to share it with those around you, as any good Dad should.
And yet now, I go weeks, or even months without catching sight of these elusive accessories. They have been out of stock in the store since spring 2016, and officially discontinued since the fall of that same year. The hats are now an endangered species, as the Barnard Dads who wear them grow older, graduate, or move on to newer, hotter baseball cap options.
As a result, it’s easy to imagine my reaction when, about a month ago, I saw a Barnard Dad Hat on an official Barnard Twitter account. On February 23, the Athena Film Festival shared a photo of President Sian Beilock posing with J.J. Abrams… the latter of whom is proudly sporting a Barnard Dad Hat. The caption extols praise for Abrams, who is not only the Athena Film Festival’s 2018 Leading Man Awardee, but also a future Barnard Dad, as his daughter is BC ’22.
At first, I was angry. J.J. Abrams came to the Diana Center once, once, and was just given a Barnard Dad Hat, this ultimate marker of the Barnard student aesthetic, like that? Sure, he’s an award-winning director, but he’s still no more a Barnard Dad than any other father of a Barnard student. My own father, for example, has been asking me to get him a Barnard Dad Hat ever since admitted students weekend, 2015, to say nothing of a few supportive friends for whom I know Barnard Dad Hats would make perfect holiday or birthday gifts. Why should J.J. Abrams have a hat pulled especially for him while all of them remain hatless?
But then, my thoughts turned more optimistic. If Barnard gave J.J. Abrams a Barnard Dad Hat, perhaps that meant the store had received a new order – maybe I could finally buy one. After searching the Barnard store website and finding the apparel section wanting, I turned to the number one source of campus knowledge: Barnard Buy/Sell/Trade. “hi does anyone know if they’ve brought back the barnard dad hats for real or only made one for jj abrams,” I posted. As the likes and comments began to roll in, I realized that I was not alone in missing these hats. Other upperclassmen lamented the hats’ absence in the store, and even first-years got involved, expressing wishes to buy the hats for their fathers, friends, or for themselves. The hats’ discontinuation had clearly left a Dad Hat-shaped hole in the Barnard community’s heart, and seeing one on J.J. Abrams had only brought the longing back.
Luckily, my Facebook post also brought me closer to closure in the form of Haley Kane, BC ’19, a student worker in the Barnard Store who commented on my post explaining that, sadly, no, the hats were not “back for real.” She later explained the situation to me further in an informal interview: the hats have been officially discontinued, due to a decision made above the Barnard Store staff’s heads by the communications department. The last shipment of hats arrived in spring 2016, and it became clear by the fall of that year that another shipment would not be on its way despite a “preorder list” that store workers were keeping of students who wanted to be alerted when more Barnard Dad Hats arrived. Haley also mentioned that, in fall 2016, workers received designs for the Barnard hats that they now carry, which feature a simple Barnard crest.
“[The communication department’s] formal reason for pulling the hats from the store was the hats’ lack of inclusive phrasing, as naturally not everyone who attends Barnard has a father parental figure in their lives,” Haley explained. She would like to stress that her words are her own, and do not reflect views or experiences of any other student workers or the Barnard Store’s manager.
In the hopes of confirming the information I learned from Haley, I reached out to Barnard’s communications department itself. I asked if I might be able to speak with an administrative representative of the Barnard Store to find out why the Barnard Dad Hats had been discontinued. After about a week, I received the following statement:
Parent-specific merchandise was discontinued in the Barnard store several years ago due to feedback from the community indicating a desire for more inclusive items. Barnard hats are popular with parents and other members of the Barnard community, and we continue to evaluate decisions about branded merchandise on a regular basis.
However, experience and interviews have demonstrated that the hats were certainly popular outside the realm of male parents of Barnard students. “This hat makes the perfect gift for anyone and everyone, from cis-men to your fav gender non-conforming bestie, to your masculine energy days that just need a dad cap!” said Angela Myers, BC ’18. She expressed that she wished she had “bought more of the hats when they were available.”
A couple of Barnard students to whom I talked pointed out that the Barnard Dad Hats were particularly popular with members of the school’s LGBTQ+ community. The hats are seen by many as a piece of the perfect “dad-core aesthetic” – they helped Barnard students who did not conform to traditional gender and sexuality norms associated with a women’s college to feel as though they belonged on campus.
“[The hats] became popular when I was a first year and just starting to figure out my gender,” said Rowan Hepps Keeney, BC ’18. “It was validating to be able to support/rep my school while also declaring that I wasn’t a girl.”
Another Barnard senior agreed. “It’s just very suspicious that the hats were super popular, because of queer students, and then they suddenly disappeared,” this student said. “Like it’s not good business sense? So there has to be something else going on.”
When I told this student the official reasoning behind the hats’ discontinuation, they replied, “Okay, but I don’t have a father figure and I want that hat.”
Like Maggie the Magnolia, the Barnard Dad Hats were gone before their time and are sorely missed in the student community. Unlike Maggie, however, it won’t take decades to grow another shipment of hats – the store would simply need to put in an online order and wait a few weeks. Surely if the Athena Film Festival could swing a hat for J.J. Abrams, Barnard can order a few hats for its own students. Or at least I can hope that, someday, Barnard will offer another item that inspires the same degree of school pride and personal belonging as that sweet, off-white brim and bold, blue lettering – although right now, it’s hard to imagine anything that could wholly replace the iconic Barnard Dad Hats.
Photos via Betsy and the Athena Film Festival Twitter