I’m talking the classic fedoras of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Think Sam Spade, James Cagney, Jimmy Durante, Elliot Ness.
All of our granddads.
My abiding memory of my dad is his Sunday morning ritual, with him grabbing his dress hat off the hall tree before leaving for church. Setting it atop his head was the cherry on the sundae.
Dad had a hat for every occasion. When he was selling real estate, it was a felt fedora. When he was hanging on the auction rail sizing up horse flesh, it was a straw Stetson. When he was on the red Farmall mowing hay, it was a faded John Deere cap.
But something happened sometime in the ‘70s. Men stopped wearing nice hats.
I asked folks of different generations why this happened. Most said it was just a fashion dump–hats went out of style.
Some said it was inconvenience. No one wanted to mess with taking care of a hat. On windy days, they blew off. When you got in your car, they slid off the dash.
Some say it was functional. Or rather, lack of function. In cold, winter weather, a dress hat didn’t give much protection. It perched atop the skull, leaving the ears exposed. It didn’t even keep off the rain, as rain ruined a good felt hat.
But those reasons are all wrong. I finally figured out why men stopped wearing hats.
What happened to hair during the ‘70s? It got big. It got frizzy, curly, long and kinky. And–as sung by the Cowsills–flaxen, waxen, knotted, polka dotted, twisted, beaded, braided, powered, flowered and confettied, bangled, tangled, spangled and spahettied.
No one wanted to spend all that time and effort building big hair, only to hide it under a hat.
It makes sense. When you think back, hair was not much of an issue in the pre-hippie era. Every man oiled down his locks and slicked them back or sideways with a simple part. Fitch’s Rose Oil–that’s what my dad used. It created a greasy shield that looked the same all day, with or without a hat.
I’m on a mission to bring back the hat. I don’t know why. But there is something about a hat that makes a statement. Women seem to like it. Men respect it. Kids notice it.
The way you wear a hat tells a bit about you. Tilted to the side, it hints of rakishness. Pushed back means openness and observation, like an earnest reporter. Pulled low over the eyes says mystery and intrigue.
Hats seem to be catching on again, especially among the young. Irish milliner Philip Treacy, who created all the fantastic women’s hats for the royal wedding, has a theory on how hat-wearing has evolved.
“Hats have changed meaning, at one time hats were a conformist accessory, and now they’re an accessory of rebellion. So that’s why young people are attracted to the quirkiness of a hat because they like to be interested in something or wear something that their parents aren’t interested in.”
Treacy then made a bold prediction: “Hats are not going to disappear, as long as we have heads.”
I must say I feel that sense of completeness when I place a fine hat on my head. I own four, including the grey dress felt with black and white braided band my dad used to wear to church. It makes me look a touch taller, stand a tad straighter, and step a bit crisper. Wearing a hat really is the topper.
With the arrival of Easter, maybe this is the perfect time for you to top off your ensemble with your Easter bonnet, be it a tam, homburg, beret, beanie, snap brim, porkpie, stovepipe, or fedora.
So here’s a tip of the hat… to… the hat. Put one on.