For her daughter’s wedding, Princess Margaret wore a sky-blue construction that looked rather like an upside down laundry basket.
A young Prince Harry was dressed up in a maroon velvet musketeer’s hat for his uncle’s wedding. And let’s not even talk about his cousin Princess Beatrice’s notorious fascinators …
Then there are the races. To this day, nobody knows who won the 2006 Melbourne Cup – everybody’s view was obstructed by Balinese princess Lindy Klim’s vast white lacy head-dress, a million-dollar monstrosity featuring 130 carats of diamonds.
With centuries of such precedents, perhaps it’s understandable that the British Parliament at Westminster banned hats – and typically, Cook Islands has followed the lead of London.
But in many cultures and religions, headwear is more than just a fashion statement.
In Catholicism, monks’ hoods and nuns’ veils are signs of modesty and humility.
In parts of Islam, a hijab or niqab carries a similar meaning – and moves by countries like France and Turkey to ban such head scarves have been deeply offensive to Muslims. They rightly interpret the bans as attempts to suppress their religious expression.
Conservative Australian One Nation leader Pauline Hanson called for facial coverings like burqas to be banned from that country’s Senate – as well as the Akubra hat worn by an Aboriginal Labor MP.
By contrast, a ban on Native American head-dresses at a major California music festival this year was intended as a sign of respect for indigenous culture, after hipsters began wearing their culture as costume.
So Opposition leader Tina Browne raised a good question yesterday, when she asked why Cook Islands Parliamentary standing orders banned the wearing of head ei.
Prime Minister Henry Puna acknowledged her point – and said that if a majority of MPs agreed, the rules could be changed to allow ei katu.
So do ei katu have cultural significance comparable to a Muslim headscarf or a Native American head-dress? That’s probably the wrong question.
A more useful question for MPs to ask themselves is, are they a distinct symbol of Cook Islands culture? To that, the answer is surely yes.
And would Parliament be a brighter and more beautiful place if they were permitted?
Again, a resounding yes.