Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Way You Wear Your Hat

"The Way You Wear Your Hat"................... Crooned Frank Sinatra

I love a man in a hat. A honest to goodness real hat. A homberg or fedora, but, I hate baseball caps. I've said it a million times or more,I hate baseball caps.

Hats are surprisingly complicated things. Sure they keep their wearer's warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and sometimes function strictly as fashion accessories, but they have an amazing history and they also come with etiquette so complex that people have to consult guides just to wear them. What I have learned is to voluminous to list here so I will follow Joe Friday's ( great hat wearer) advice and give "just the facts, Madam".

For most of the 20th Century men were not considered dressed without a hat. Furthermore, not just any hat would do, but rather the proper hat for both the times and the season was required. Then in the early 1960s, the tipping point occurred, when John Kennedy took off his hat at his presidential inauguration. Growing rebellion against authority and conformity and those hoping for a new day and order found an icon in the hatless American president. In very short order, hats were not cool. Many hat maker consider President JFK (hatless Jack) to have single-handedly been the cause of the decline in proper head wear fashions for men in the US.

You can't picture Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Frank Sinatra, Clark Kent and FDR without a hat. What happened to the Bowler (known also as a derby), Top Hat, Panama, Homburg or Boater (Bing Crosby's favorite)? The Fedora (trilby in Europe), become the hallmark of movie tough guys, Chicago gangsters, private eyes, newspaper reporters--in fact by the 1930s, virtually every man who put on a suit of clothes topped off with a fedora. If your grandfather came from either Europe or North America, chances are he wore a fedora.

The baseball cap in an American icon. It is in fact the only hat style that is an American creation. Its popularity in the United States received a big boost in the era of Babe Ruth. This simple and functional style was a perfect fit for a country that glorified democracy, anti-elitism, and the like. Baseball, the national pastime and a passion for more than a few, but only in baseball could you wear an exact replica of the hat worn by your heroes on the field. From there it was a short step for truckers, farmers, and laborers to incorporate the ball cap as de rigueur in their daily attire. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the baseball cap became a hot fashion item, propelled in large part when it became associated with hip hop music artists. Like Coca-Cola and McDonalds, the baseball cap became a symbol of America. Those who feared American hegemony wouldn't get near one, but those who wanted to identify with American popular culture, began their wardrobe with a ball cap on his or her head and sneakers on their feet.

Although associated with the American West, the cowboy hat, arguably, is not an American creation. Sure I see lots of Turbans, Sailor, and other military style hats everyday where I live but I would like to see guys trading in their baseball caps for a Panama, Fedora, Bowler, Top Hat, Homburg, Trilby, Walker or Derby. I would even settle for the Beret, Porkpie, Boater, Beefeater, Beanie, Gaucho, Glengarry, Aussie Adventurer, Sombrero, Rough Rider, Safari, or Stetson. If you must wear a cap then how about the Greek fisherman's, Newsboy's, Ivy, Golf, Watch, Legion, Bellhop, or Coonskin. I would even like to see an occasional Pit Helmet, Coolie, Matador, Tricorne, Fez, or Stovepipe. Heck,just a plain old Bucket all covered in fishing lures beats a baseball cap.

It could be made of straw, felt, wool or cotton just as long as each guy is being original and not a follower of the masses. There was a time when almost everyone knew the rules, but since hats fell out of fashion entire generations have come of age with little understanding of proper topper protocol. More casual rules are followed today, sometimes appalling us older people who remember traditional customs. Men aren't expected anymore to tip their hats in passing to women, but they are expected to remove them during the National Anthem. And proper hat etiquette still requires a man to remove his hat when in church, a restaurant, a theater or a concert. Just this morning in my favorite breakfast eatery I counted 14 men (2/3 of the total) who did not remove their baseball caps while eating. I truely believe the advent of the baseball cap was the death knell for galentry and manners by men.

Call me old fashioned but I think it was kind of gallent when a man removed a hat to show courtesy to a woman. I also think it was a way of flirting. I think if men realized how handsome they looked when they wear a hat, they'd make a comeback. So Snap the brim and let your girlfriend know
"Here's looking at you kid."

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