I freely admit that I’ve engaged in this stereotype. And not as a child either, but as a fully-fledged college student in my Halloween costume a few years ago. This is one of those stereotypes that you are fully aware of, and know that when you’re putting on that hat you’re playing to a specific image, but you just don’t care because it’s so much fun.
This stereotype is very much ingrained in the culture and psyche of today when defining what a witch looks like. For many people, the image that comes to mind is someone dressed all in black with a wand, a black cat, and a black point hat with the wide brim. Every Halloween there are scores of young children dressing up in exactly that manner (with or without the cat) but dressed in black with a wand and hat.
Theories abound as to how this stereotype came to be a stereotype. According to various sites on the Interwebs, the black pointy hat could be a remnant from the old pointed black dunce’s hats used in schools as punishments. By the time the fashion of using a dunce’s hat reached the country folk, it was out of fashion in the cities, so it became associated with the country people, who were also called ‘pagani’ in Italy. (For the origins and usage of the word “pagan” and “pagani” see my post here.)
Another theory is that as a continuation of the fifteenth century dunce’s hat trend, Victorian artists had associated the pointed hat with witches in their artwork, which is how the image has survived to today.
Do witches and Pagans today still wear the black pointy hats? Not really. Usually if we do, it’s in jest or for something fun like Halloween. Rarely, I think, is the hat used in formal settings or during ritual. Many Pagans prefer either no head covering or something simpler like a veil or headband rather than a hat. This stereotype is only popular because it fits the image perpetuated by movies and artwork, although this image seems to be changing to something more reflective of today’s trends rather than a stereotype from hundreds of years ago.
I still have my sparkly black hat with the silver stars that I bought from Target for $10. Will I ever wear it again?