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A History of the Toessel in World Culture

Fire. Iron. Paper. Gunpowder. Steam. Silicon. Nanotechnology. The building blocks of history, the hardy fabric of our lives, the very foundation of our global culture. But these fundamentals would be nothing without that which binds history together, the single creation that links age to age, people to people, spanning generational and political lines to become the one thing that we all have in common.

I'm referring, of course, to the toessel.

The toessel has had a crucial, wide-ranging role in our history, but even the most gifted seer could never have predicted this when the first modest version appeared on the scene. Thanks to the diligent work of famed archeologist Dr. L.D. "Manimal" Schoenhauer at the University of Bern, we now know that the toessel was originated by Australopithecus, a predecessor to today's homo sapien, in or around 3 million B.C. The frigid conditions of the late Pliocene period, coupled with the prehistoric beings' large skull size (relative to their predecessors), drove them instinctively to create a warm, functional-yet-attractive, year-round head covering. Lacking today's manufacturing equipment, Australopithecus was forced to construct a hat out of the primitive materials around him, and find a way to keep it cohesive and permanent, but still flexible so it would be comfortable. In other words, it had to "breathe."

The solution that this early being stumbled upon was nothing less than the most important moment in the history of the world. There were few textiles in those days, but one in ready supply was mammoth intestine, which turned out to be the perfect blend of warmth, pliability, and durability. After killing or maiming a woolly mammoth, Australopithecus would remove the creature's intestine, cut it into workable segments, then shear it into long, fine strips and let it dry for several days on a pre-designated "hot rock." Once these strips had hardened, they could then be woven into a multitude of shapes, the most popular being the "bowl" model, since it best fit the distinctive curvature of their cranium. These beings, with barely enough brainpower to walk erect and urinate away from their bodies, had somehow come up with the idea of weaving, i.e., intertwining strands of material (intestine, in this case) in such as way that the completed creation hung together in a permanent shape, but still adjusted to fit the wearer's particular head, without need of velcro, staples, hot glue, buttons, or any of the other fastening devices that we enjoy today.

So the toessel became a mainstay of prehistoric culture, and was, like other successful evolutionary techniques, passed on from one generation to the next, playing a quiet but powerful role in our socio- and biological makeup. Although the toessel went through numerous structural and technological changes over the centuries, its influence was felt globally. It was simplified to its basics by the Romans in the form of a laurel wreath, tightly woven into what is now known as a yarmulke, flattened on top and decorated with a pom-pom to become the traditional Scottish tam o'shanter, expanded and cylindrified into the Middle Eastern fez, split thrice to become the common tricorne of Napoleonic France, softened and indented to become the British trilby, even enlarged and expanded into the modern-day Stetson, worn by such visionaries as Garth Brooks and J.R. Ewing. There is even a theory that Jesus Christ, if his existence as a historical figure is indeed to be believed, also sported a slim version of the toessel to keep the sun from burning his scalp during lengthy sermons and/or miracles, and that this accessory was commonly (mis?)interpreted as a halo in graphic depictions of him by contemporary artists. But this is just a hypothesis, with hard evidence still a decade or two away.

But the toessel has been more than just a sexy head accessory. Its functionality and charm has altered the course of history time and again, and in fact we'd probably be speaking Hindi (or maybe Flemish, depending on who you believe), living in waterborne domed cities and using small, hardened pieces of dung as currency if it weren't for the toessel. Here is but a smattering of examples:

2700 B.C.: Egyptian slaves were dying in droves as they toiled to build the Great Pyramids and other early technological wonders. King Menes decreed that all should wear a light toessel, designed in the signature intertwined-asp style of the day, and soon productivity quadrupled and the death rate plummeted to a mere 100 men per diem. The success of these projects made Egypt the cultural, political, and commercial center of the ancient world, heralding in a new era of innovations in architecture, language, art, and science.

1337: Edward III, holding a duchy in the French province of Guienne, resented being forced to pay tribute to Philip IV. During a heated meeting between these heads of state, Philip snatched the decorative, jewel-encrusted toessel from the head of Edward and flung it aside with mad insouciance, crying out (and this is just a rough translation): "This terrain is the command of me, and I shall desecrate your hat of ridiculousness no matter if you are of the liking of it or not." This, of course, ended all negotiations and began the Hundred Years War, forever changing the political makeup of Europe.

1443: In rural Ireland, farm workers took to wearing roomy, ear-covering toessels. During the summer of '43, the southwest region was plagued by an unusual infestation of locusts and other insects, many of which would get caught in the farmers' toessels as they tended the soil. They would, of course, flail about in consternation, unable to sit still and perform their duties. This was the source of the phrase "bee in one's bonnet."

1492: Genoese seaman Cristoforo Columbo, often depicted wearing an Italian variation of the toessel called the capello brutto, crossed the Atlantic in search of a Western route to China. A strong headwind sent his prized toessel (a gift woven for him by one of Queen Isabella's charming and saucy handmaids) into the sea and he sent the Santa Maria off-course in pursuit of it, ignoring the outcry of his shipmates. This last-minute change in course led to the European discovery of the New World, beginning with Cuba.

1850: Demand in Europe for new toessels was at an all-time high. People realized what an excellent holiday gift the toessel made, and were flooding the haberdasheries with frenzied requests for more. Western society seemed to be on the brink of disaster and, not for the first time, medical professionals began to wonder if the appeal of the toessel was too great for mankind to bear. Manufacturers frantically looked for new methods of production to meet this demand, and some turned to James Watt's steam engine (originally developed in 1769) as a new source of power. This began the transfer from an agricultural-based economy to an industrial-based one, creating the factory system of large-scale machine production and greater economic specialization.

1914: A young Serbian nationalist, intent on overthrowing Austro-Hungarian hegemony, plotted a shocking assassination. As Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his cavalcade made their way through the city's center, the nationalist waved a particularly colorful and ingeniously-designed toessel to get his attention. The Archduke's eyes immediately locked onto the toessel, and his heart sang with its magnificence. He had to possess it. His soul cried out for it. And in that moment, that tiny instant of weakness, the nationalist struck, killing the Archduke in a mad burst of violence, setting off the chain of events that would lead to World War I.

1923: Vladimir Zworykin, working in his primitive laboratory, created the ionoscope, which consisted of a thin sheet of mica upon which thousands of microscopic globules of a photosensitive silver-cesium compound had been deposited. He used an electron gun to pass a beam across these cells, which caused an electrical signal to appear on the back of this mosaic. During his first test of this ionoscope, Zworykin realized that the heat from the gun was incredibly intense, so intense that it would burn itself up before even reaching the silver-cesium cells. In a burst of inspiration, he decided to use his trusty toessel, made out of sturdy, heat-absorbing wool, as an internal buffer for the gun. The toessel contained the heat and allowed the electrons to be transmitted properly, thereby giving birth to the predecessor of the television.

1945: With the collapse of the Third Reich imminent, Adolf Hitler lost his grip on sanity and performed a brief puppet show in his bunker using two toessels. The show was evidently called "BJ and the Bear" and ended with the Bear character saying: "I'd rather shoot myself in the stomach than give up my pretty toessel" (a common German idiom at the time). Soon after the second encore, Hitler committed suicide.

1980: An unfortunate mistranslation of "You are very fit and manly in that toessel" as "Your sexual proclivities obviously tend towards young, uncircumcised boys" prompted the lengthy Iran-Iraq conflict.

1985: Ted Danson's specially-crafted toessel convinced millions of TV watchers that he had, in fact, a thick, luxurious head of hair.

And the list goes on and on. So what does the future hold for the toessel? Well, already scientists are experimenting with using filaments from a standard-issue military toessel as a new way to conduct electricity, and engineers from Sun Microsystems have developed a prototype of a microchip that is based on the intricate woven design of the distinctive cap. And you can't throw a rock without hitting some hip-hop or grunge fan sporting one ... and these youngsters are the leaders of tomorrow. The tradition will continue, handed from one era to the next, coloring and invigorating every single aspect of our lives.

Whether we like it or not.

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