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World Hats off to the women: A look at the knitted pink headpieces that helped make protest history

Hundreds of thousands of people flooded US cities Saturday in a day of women's rights protests to mark President Donald Trump's first full day in office.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The 1.2 million women (and men and children and even a few dogs) around the world who marched in the Women's March on Washington on Saturday hoped to make history. But they didn't realize they would turn out in such numbers as to dwarf President Donald Trump's inauguration the day before. And they surely didn't expect their knitted, pink, so-called "pussyhats" to have a hand and a head in that history making.

The battle of the hats between red "Make America Great Again" ball caps, worn by Donald Trump's supporters and the knitted "Pussy Power" caps, worn by so many the following day is one of the most telling and unexpected sideshows to have emerged in the bitter political contest between Mr. Trump and women all over the world.

Caps created for political purposes, of course, are – well, old hat. Phrygian caps, which date to the 4th century in what is now Eastern Europe, are traditionally soft conical headpieces, with the top pulled forward – a long-time symbol of freedom and the pursuit of liberty, thanks to an early association with caps worn by emancipated slaves in ancient Rome. Working-class Parisians wore the bonnet rouge during the French Revolution: During the Reign of Terror, even aristocrats donned them, to broadcast their allegiance to the masses as Mr. Trump did with his blood-red golf cap. The bonnets were often knitted by tricoteuses, who sat beside guillotines during public executions, never once interrupting their purling.

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The Trump hat, the modern equivalent, has already proved its effectiveness: Donald Trump is President. But right up until the inauguration, it was a controversial headgear, at least in liberal Washington, where Mr. Trump won only 4 per cent of the vote. A group of men wearing Trump hats – no matter how well dressed – always attracted notice when they walked into a downtown Washington bar or restaurant, and it was not unheard of for patrons to make cracks about them – and not just for wearing a hat in a restaurant.

"They don't get a lot of Trump messaging," said Marilyn Lucht, who lives near the capital. "So when they walked in, the Washingtonians said, 'Oh, no, they're here.'"

"People made remarks a lot, and some of our staff wanted to not serve them," an unnameable waitress in an unnameable high-end dining establishment in chic Washington says. "Of course, we're trained not to. But you do notice them."

That, of course, was the whole point of the Trump cap – to get a movement noticed. The Trump campaign spent $3.2-million (U.S.) on hats alone – a move its managers were ridiculed for, until they won the presidency.

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The Trump hat sells for $14.98 at Wal-Mart, and for $25 at the Trump Store. The Trump Store hats are made in California. Many of the Trump hats worn by supporters at Friday's inauguration – as revealed by Reuters – are made in China, Vietnam and Bangladesh, despite Mr. Trump's ringing promise and threat onstage, in his inauguration speech, to henceforth "Buy American and hire American."

The hat's slogan, Make America Great Again, stitched in white, was a Ronald Reagan pitch line that Mr. Trump trademarked in 2012. He first wore the hat in Laredo, Tex., at a rally, in the summer of 2015, and it quickly became both a favourite of loyalists, not to mention a bone of contention – even in Canada, when a male student at Mount Royal University wore a Trump hat and was accused of uttering hate speech by the institution's former vice-president of student life.

The Trump hat – much in evidence at the inauguration on Friday – is red, and aggressive: Its slogan tells you what to think. The pussyhat that was everywhere during the vastly better-attended women's march is an entirely different head game.

The pussyhat bears no explicit message, but it does keep you warm. It's pink, not red. It sells for $25 on Etsy.

But from the day the march was announced – which is to say, the day after Donald Trump won the election – women were encouraged to make their own, mainly via the Pussyhat Project. The project was the brainwave of Krista Suh, a screenwriter, and Jayna Zweiman, an architect, both of Los Angeles. The inspiration for the name, of course, was Mr. Trump's infamous remark, caught on tape, about being able to "grab them by the pussy."

The hat, which can resemble a tea cozy, was designed by Kat Coyle, who owns The Little Knittery, a knitting shop in California, and provided the pattern and knitting instructions to the Pussyhat Project website. From the beginning, women could make hats for themselves or others. And from the beginning, they made improvements and added extras.

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The hats worn Saturday were a constant topic of admiration and conversation, as were the issues (a smorgasbord of concerns, from abortion and education to health care and global warming) and the jungle of signs (my personal favourites: "I want substantive change but will settle for you not killing me," and "Imagine a world in which Donald Trump's mother had access to contraception"). Whether they were singing or yelling or chanting ("You're orange, you're gross, and you lost the popular vote!"), the women wore their hats.

Those hats came in an astonishing variety, in all shades of pink. Terra Soma, of Portland, knitted hats for her sister, Tara Omara, and their friend, Bree Christenson, of Salt Lake City. She made them with size 39 needles – those are big – and massive Loopy Mango wool, which she bought at her knitting store, Blazing Needles. "One skein is about this big," she said, reaching her arms out in a full circle in front of her. "It cost $140. But I made five hats out of it." The result was a big, soft, poofy, funny, fetching hat almost the size of a second head. "We think this may be the original pattern," Ms. Soma said. People offered to buy their hats as they walked the march.

Forty yards away, Page Sargisson and Amy Edgy, a jewellery maker and lawyer from Brooklyn and Washington, respectively, were wearing their only slightly smaller self-knitted Jiffy-Pop-sized tuques. They, too, were made of Loopy Mango yarn, albeit in a more orange colour, and on size 35 needles. "About an hour and a half," is how long it took Ms. Sargisson to make them. They were marching, Ms. Edgy said, for "equality for all and democracy, which are in short shrift these days."

Laurie Bush-Resko, of Virginia, made hats for herself and her friends – she has a habit of doing this – out of a swirly pink felt that looked like tiny roses. She bought the fabric for $8, stitched the ones they were wearing the day before the march at her home in Rappahannock County, Va., and has tons of material left over.

They were standing next to a man wearing a T-shirt that said "supportive dude" who was leading yet another chant: "We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter."

Susan Prows, Victoria Maker and Ellen Miller, of Portland, Los Angeles and New Orleans, respectively, met on Facebook, and convinced one another to attend the march. Ms. Maker bought their hats, and then sewed cat ears on them. They were more interested in talking about the upsetting distance between the people at the march – "We're a pretty well-heeled crowd," Ms. Prows, a professor of health policy, said – and the working class who elected Mr. Trump, on the other hand. "They don't have much more to lose."

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All three women were concerned that Americans on either side of the political divide, despite their common stake in human equality, have retreated into their own silos. "Most of us don't even cross paths with any of the others, in our lives," Ms. Prows added.

Other women turned Trump hats against Trump. Nancy Crowe, of Blue Hill, Me., was wearing a red ball cap that said, "Make America Mexico Again." She admitted people gave her lots of looks, at least at first, assuming she had the audacity to wear a real Trump hat to a march by women protesting Mr. Trump. (I didn't see a single one.) Natasha Salazar had done the same thing, and embroidered "America Was Already Pretty (F-word) Good," except that the expletive was in Russian. Other doctored Trump caps said "Make America Think Again."

"There have been lots of looks, but most people crack up when they actually read it," Ms. Salazar said. She hopes to market the caps in the future, as a retort to the original.

Of course, the more skilled the knitter, the fancier the hat.

Kate Lowing, a nurse from the Catskills, is a fast and dedicated knitter, "I have SABLE," she said – a well-known knit wit's term for "Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy," or extra wool. "It's a very simple pattern. It's boring. So you have to add really sparkly bits." Which she did, in different styles for herself and her husband, then embroidering them with multicoloured metallic fabric. (His was shaped like an Air Force cap.)

Then she apologized, and said she had to catch up to her friends. But she turned around as she left. "I'm sorry," she called back. "I'm really sorry for this person we have elected."

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The Globe speaks to some people in the midst of the Women’s March on Washington to find out what motivated them to participate.
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