It will not be easy to try to upstage Aretha Franklin’s hat from President Obama’s first inauguration today. The grey leather and bejeweled hat stole the scene at the first inauguration and catapulted into an internet meme. Aretha’s hat could make a comeback at this inauguration as an homage.
By now almost everyone has seen the hat and knows the story. Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on January 20, 2009. Evangelical pastor Rick Warren—after some controversy—delivered the ceremony’s invocation. Then it was Aretha Franklin’s turn to take stage. The iconic singer performed “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” and the nation became transfixed … by her hat.
The “distinctive grey hat, which was adorned with a Swarovski crystal-studded bow” became one of the earliest internet memes. Within hours of the inauguration, the hat was seen photoshopped on everyone from the newly-inaugurated President Obama to cats to former Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as fans taking pictures of them wearing the hat. The hat also became a must-have in some fashion circles and replicas were quickly sold-out.
The hat and the resulting internet meme corresponded with the rising popularity of Facebook and Twitter, which were just taking off at that time. “There hadn’t been anything like that before. Facebook had just started to become really popular, it was the first Facebook post that had a million numbers,” Luke Song, the Detroit-based designer and creator of Ms. Franklin’s “fabulous” hat, told ABC News. “It was one of those first Internet memes.”
And like any true internet meme, here comes the remix—or the “2.0” version.
The designer of Ms. Franklin’s famous hat said he has had “hundreds of requests” for similar hats in the last couple of weeks. “I had a lot of requests and orders for that particular hat—a replica of the inauguration hat,” Song told ABC News. The Queen of Soul has patronized his boutique, Mr. Song Millinery, for 20 of its 25 years. “I know that there will be a lot of people in the audience wearing it as an homage to the last inauguration.”
In the words of Ms. Franklin: “That was one fabulous hat and everybody liked it. I think it’s because it was so stylish and gorgeous. The hat took on a life of its own. I understand it has its own Facebook page.”
As you would expect, the hat ain’t cheap. The original cost more than $500 and replicas were sold at $179. But the price has been discounted to $89.50 during the last few weeks. A small price to pay for fabulousity…and to have your piece of inaugural history.