10 Strange Hats And Masks From Across Space And Time

These raise many questions. Like: Why? Also: Why?
10 Strange Hats And Masks From Across Space And Time

People wear some pretty crazy stuff on their heads, eh? In fact, they wear crazy stuff all over their bodies. We need to phase out clothes altogether, which is why our campaign slogan is "pants-free in '23." 

But back to headgear. Yeah, that crazy stuff really stands out. When you get in your time machine and examine everyone across history, you'll suddenly rub your eyes with confusion when you spot stuff like ...

A Golden Octopus Samurai Helmet

You know about samurai helmets. You've seen Japanese movies, or at least you saw the movie Star Wars with that one guy in the robot suit and a samurai helm (his name escapes us at the moment). These helmets, or kabuto, were sometimes very elaborate and even included sexual imagery: Some helmets had ornaments that resembled hoes.

Wait, sorry, we read our source wrong. The hoes in question were not sexual; they were just gardening implements. Therefore, despite what you might have heard about Japanese culture and octopi, there was also nothing sexual about the following kabuto from the 16th century.

Kawari kabuto with octopus

Stibbert Museum

And yet just by publishing this, our site is now indexed as porn. 

A high-ranking samurai would wear such a helmet into battle to show off. "The other warriors are wearing helmets lacking any seafood whatever," a commander might say. "But me, I'm wearing an octopus on my head, with an iron core and then more delicate features fashioned from papier mâché. I am the sophisticated one here." Plus, any enemy who saw him walking around was terrified. Anyone wearing something so impractical had to be irrational, and therefore truly dangerous.

To repeat: The octopus samurai hat was not sexual. No one's out there wearing hats to make animals have sex their heads. 

A Hat To Make Birds Have Sex With Your Head

If you are one of our many readers who raise falcons, you need a steady supply of falcon semen. You can't trust falcons to breed as hard as you want them to, so you have to inseminate them artificially, and to collect semen, you have to trick males into having sex with your head, using a special hat.

We've talked about this process before, so today, we'd like to focus on attempts to apply it to birds other than falcons. New Zealand has a critically endangered parrot called the kākāpō. Artificial insemination is the way to go to save the species, and while some males respond to what breeders discreetly refer to as "the massage method," a poster child celeb bird named Sirocco did not. Sirocco did, however, try having sex with a couple different people's heads, so his handlers built a hat to encourage him to try again, and to collect his bird milk in the process. 

bird mating helmet

New Zealand Department of Conservation

That's ... a whole web of condoms, isn't it?

Here's the thing about the kākāpō ejaculation helmet, though. It never worked.

Oh, it worked at getting Sirocco to have sex with people's heads. Sirocco loved having sex with heads wearing the special hat. But it never collected any semen because unlike falcons, for whom sex takes a matter of minutes, kākāpōs spend an entire hour having sex. No volunteers who wore the hat willingly lasted through the whole performance till the climax. 

So, this wasn't a breeding hat, it was a birth control hat: It facilitated bestiality without helping anyone make bird babies. It was the opposite of what people had intended. Or, maybe the breeders were lying about their motives, and it was exactly what they'd intended. 

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The Nyau Elvis Mask

The Chewa people, who live in African countries like Malawi and Zambia, have a secret society known as the Nyau. It's clearly not that well-kept a secret, since we know about it, but it still comes with such appropriately spooky stuff as sleeping a week in a cemetery to join up and then transforming into a dead person's spirit during rituals. 

Members wear masks during rituals and dances. Some are what you might expect (animal masks, masks representing professions or emotions). Others are a little different. 

'Elvis' Mask for Nyau Society

Brooklyn Museum

Wait, what's so weird about a mask of the king?

See, some Nyau masks represent bad stuff, which is why they depict people no one there likes, such as the British (we can all relate to this), slave traders, or the Virgin Mary (this one may be a little confusing if you're a Mary fan, but it makes sense to them). Also: Elvis, the personification of antisocial values. Clearly, the Nyau haven't forgiven Elvis for that time he sang a too-groovy version of Old MacDonald

The French Lightning Rod Hat

In 18th-century France, everyone feared getting struck by lightning. Mostly, this danger only threatened those with very specific occupations (like ringing the bells in church towers), but still, fear remained.

That wasn't a Quasimodo joke: Roughly three bell-ringers were electrocuted every year during this period thanks to lightning. Luckily, Francophile inventor Benjamin Franklin had developed a lightning rod, which caught lightning and diverted it safely. Clearly, the invention was begging to be adapted for personal use, and so in 1778, we got the lighting rod hat. 

Lady's lightning rod hat

Émile Deschamps

It actually doesn't look stupid. It just *is* stupid.

The way the hat worked, in theory, a metal ribbon around the crown would attract lightning. A chain ran from the ribbon to the ground, and this would safely channel the electricity down to the earth, to the ball of sparks at the planet's core (people were still a little vague about exactly how lightning worked). 

We doubt that the hat saved many women from electrocution. In fact, 100 percent of women who wore the hat died. They didn't die by lightning, or because they wore the hat, but still. 

Kiribati Porcupinefish Helmets

Truly, hats can either look elaborate or effectively protect your head. They rarely do both. Consider the porcupinefish helmets worn by old warriors in the nation of Kiribati. Yes, we've already told you about one seafood helmet today, but that was just a helmet carved to look like seafood. A dedicated warrior actually makes their helmet from seafood. 

A porcupinefish sounds like the most adorable and unintimidating animal ever. And it looks as cute as it sounds—normally. But as a defense mechanism, it will inflate like a blowfish and poke spines in every direction. When someone is willing to hunt a porcupinefish in that form, skin it, dry the skin, and strap it to their own scalp (and also, they're probably holding a sword lined with shark teeth), well, that is not someone you want to butt heats with. 

The helmets (te barantauti), however, don't really protect the skull much, not even with some coconut-fiber padding. Plain coconut husks might shield you better. Luckily, a rival warrior coming at you when you're wearing this helmet probably isn't trying to kill you at all. The punishment for killing you would be, uh, the death penalty, so maybe they'll skip going for the head and will just make you bleed a little. 

The Saluting Device

We often hear people complain about this whole system we have of tipping. We wholeheartedly agree: It is inconvenient for a gentleman to have to tip his hat every time he passes a lady a lady on the street.

Fortunately, in 1896, a Washington man named James Boyle came up with the solution. His patented "saluting device" would fit under your hat and tip your hat for you ... automatically!

Automatically Tipping Hat

Patent Office

And massage your scalp, for FREE

You might ask whether that system of gears and weights really did tip hats as effectively as Boyle claimed. If so, that's one more question than the patent office asked, because all they ever demanded was a cool-looking diagram, not a prototype. You might also question the benefit of a hat that tips automatically, if the whole point of tipping your hat is that you go out of your way to do so, to show courtesy to someone. Questions like that are why Washington man James Boyle vanished into obscurity and never did manage to disrupt the doffing industry. 

Saddam's Vader Helmet

Hey, we finally remembered the name of that Star Wars character who wore the samurai helmet. It's Darth Vader! In fact, if you look at the following hat used by a '90s Iraqi paramilitary organization, it looks to be inspired by samurai helmets, but it also seems to directly copy Vader's helmet. 

Geni/Wiki Commons

Iraq. Where the sand is coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere.

Uday Hussein founded this group of volunteer fighters (called the Fedayeen Saddam), and he did indeed model their helmet after Darth Vader's. Though, Uday's habit of forcibly bringing women to his pleasure palace makes him personally sound a bit more like Jabba. 

Iraq manufactured about 10,000 of these helmets. Some pop up in actions every now and then, and many others remain in the private collections of American soldiers who kept them as souvenirs

A Fedayeen Saddam helmet

Milestone Auctions

Also great gifts for kids!

In the final days of Saddam Hussein's rule, the Fedayeen Saddam were known for some particularly brutal antics. While Saddam's official executioners obviously did some terrible stuff, paramilitary volunteers didn't even wait for such formalities as a trial before beheading hundreds of victims (and not just the men but the women and the children too). You can go watch their promo video in which it's hard to tell just what sort of helmets they're wearing, but you can no longer watch the video of them eating a live dog. YouTube took it down, for some reason. 

The Radio Hat

Many people call the Sony Walkman the world's first personal audio device. This is a lie, a cruel and cowardly lie. Decades before the Walkman, we had the Radio Hat, produced by the American Merri-Lei Corporation. Like its name suggests, the company started out by selling Hawaiian leis, then it seemed logical to branch into party hats, and then into other kinds of hats.

June 1949 issue of Radio-Electronics


Pictured: logic

Instead of building the electronics into something that goes in your pocket and then letting a wire run up to your ears, like so many music players that followed, the radio hat packed everything into a helmet—except for the battery pack in your pocket, which powered the system for a decent 20 hours. This arrangement was probably for the best because radios in those days needed giant antennas. It also made the helmet unwieldy, because radios in those days needed giant antennas. 

Impressively, the hat weighed just 12 ounces. For comparison, a pair of headphones you can buy today and soon forget you're wearing might weigh 9 ounces. Of course, some headphones could weigh even less if the manufacturer didn't insert extra useless weights just to give them a "premium feel." Consumers today are dumb (unlike consumers in 1949, who never fell for gimmicks). 

The Horned Helmet Of Henry VIII

Horned helmet of Henry VIII

Geni/Wiki Commons

He's Henry the Eighth, he is
Famous for his weight, got hitched to six
Konrad Seusenhofer carved him a helm
For his new alliance forged with Rome
It featured big copper spectacles
Some giant horns, a really creepy leer
And a strangely detailed snotty nose
You can read about it here

Horned helmet of Henry VIII

Paul Hudson

It looks cursed. Quick, call a nurse. 

When Henry displayed his mask
Experts speculate he asked for laughs
Wrong historians reviewing it mused
It was really Henry's jester's suit
Especially with the winding horn
Symbolically it called the king a "cuck"
He became a low-key style icon
Meaning the kind smashed by Hulk

Emergency Bra Face Masks

This is one of the more recent examples on this list, but this bra that splits into two N95-grade masks was not created in response to COVID. No, the "emergency bra" debuted in 2009. At the time, the inventor did not cite disease as a reason to wear masks as underwear. Instead, the company pointed to disasters like 9/11 and Chernobyl (inventor Elena Bodnar was in Ukraine back in 1986 and helped treat Chernobyl victims).

emergency bra


As with Chernobyl, people now asked, "Has science gone too far?"

This was a serious invention. Yes, the company leaned into the mockery—when they received the IgNoble prize for dumb science, Bodnar accepted the award in person and demo'd the invention, removing her bra and strapping its mask to Paul Krugman as the crowd hooted and hollered. But this was never supposed to be some novelty sex product. When people asked what the male counterpart would be, imagining a ridiculous convertible jock strap, the company instead unveiled a practical male dress shirt that flips into a mask. 

Still, people did not take the company seriously. Besides the expected jokes ("a lot more men will be flying into skyscrapers now if it means women'll be whipping off their bras, haha!"), most people judged the likelihood of ever needing a face mask as too low to justify buying any specialized product. 

Then, a decade later, the company ran into a seeming stroke of good luck. A pandemic hit, and suddenly, everyone needed masks. Surely now, the emergency bra would experience a renaissance!

emergency bra


Here, a model shows off the Omicron-36C variant. 

Only, no. It turns out that if you're planning to keep a mask handy, it's really easy to just carry it with you rather than strapping it to your body under your clothes. Seriously, out of everything you might want to have on you, a mask may be the easiest thing to carry, whether in your pocket or in a handbag. Even if you refuse to wear a mask, "I have no easy way of keeping it on my person prior to wearing" is probably not your chief complaint. 

Plus, the company doesn't sell options for anyone who wears larger than a D cup. Really limiting your market there, Emergency Bra. They will though stitch masks into your larger existing bra if you ship it to them. We needn't explain why you'd pick this tailoring service rather than just buying masks yourself and then stowing them somewhere besides on your boobs. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see. 

Top Image: Ebbra

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