The Hat-Wearing Man’s Lament

By Terrell Manasco

Terrell 2

I like hats.

That may sound a bit like something Brick Tamland would say (“I love lamp”) in the Will Ferrell movie Anchorman, but I mean it. I really like hats. And I don’t mean the baseball caps worn by several people in our area. I mean real hats. Hats like your father or grandfather wore, with a brim all the way around, a tapered crown and a band, usually made of silk, circling the crown. A real man’s hat, like Humphrey Bogart sported in The Maltese Falcon and dozens of other movies of that Golden Era. Yeah, that’s the one.

About fifteen or so years ago I went on a quest to find a good quality fedora. Thirty or forty years ago that wouldn’t have even been an issue. Any local men’s shop would have stocked a variety. But this is the 21st Century. (Where is Buck Rogers, anyway?) The number of men who wear hats on a regular basis has declined. In the 1930s to the 1960s, and to some extent the 1970s, men didn’t even leave the house without a hat on their head. Next time you’re looking at some old photos of your family that were taken during that era, look at how many times your dad or grandfather or uncle was photographed without a hat. Not very many, is it?

While on this quest I soon discovered that acquiring a fedora in a local shop was akin to finding a needle in a pile of haystacks. Most I found were rather inexpensive imitations with much shorter brims and no band around the crown. The difference was painfully obvious. It was like parking a 1970 Datsun next to a 2015 Jaguar. I didn’t want a cheap knockoff. I wanted the real deal. I began to think hats were fast becoming an endangered species. I briefly considered starting a “Save The Hats” awareness organization, but I wasn’t sure anyone even knew what a real hat looked like.

Then a few years later, I searched on that newfangled Internet thing and voila! I found a website that actually sold real men’s hats: Stetsons, homburgs, bowlers, and yes, fedoras. And they looked to be good quality hats at a reasonable price. I was in business! (Well, actually the website was, but you get the idea). I was now King Arthur and I had found the Holy Grail! I ordered a couple of fedoras and in a week or so they arrived. I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the box and found a wool gray snap-brim fedora with a black band. (I’ve since purchased three more: one black, one brown, and another more expensive gray one called “The Bogart,” which has a very nice silk interior lining.)

I tried it on in front of a mirror. Okay, I’m not Sam Spade but it looks good, I thought. I started wearing it around town, but I discovered something rather odd. People look at you in a different sort of way when you walk in a store looking like James Cagney just stepped out of a cab. I had to open my coat on more than one occasion to show a store manager that I wasn’t packing heat. Yeah go ahead and search me, copper, you’ll find nothing there. Ya got nothing on me. I’m clean, see? Satisfied?

Before long I began feeling somewhat self-conscious about wearing a hat. I now felt like John Merrick, the Elephant Man, just trying to walk down the street without being the subject of gawkers. Well, except people didn’t point at me and cry or shriek in fear at the sight of me. But they did look at me a little differently. I can’t really describe the look, but it’s similar to the look your family gives your goofy, sometimes quirky, weird uncle at Thanksgiving when he shows up sporting a new hair color that has often left unsightly stains on his ears and neck.

Another thing I noticed more recently is something called “hat head.” When I first began wearing it, I had much shorter hair, so short it didn’t require a comb or brush. My hair is now longer and I’ve begun parting it to one side, sometimes with the aid of gel that not only gives it a shiny look, but also prevents me from being mistaken for Alfalfa from The Little Rascals. Without it, my hair points in more directions than a compass in the Bermuda Triangle. The hair gel remedies all that, with one exception–when I wear a hat. I could use half a bottle of hair gel and plaster it down so much that an F-5 tornado won’t even budge one hair out of place, but the minute I decide to wear a hat, all bets are off. Take off the hat and I look like one of the Coneheads with a bad toupee. Did you ever see Jimmy Stewart or William Powell or Cary Grant take off their hat and someone remark, “Say, that’s quite a nice rug you got there, Beldar”? Why didn’t Bogart or Cagney or Alan Ladd ever get a case of “hat head”? Next time you’re watching an old black and white film, watch when an actor removes his hat. See how their hair still looks neat and combed, even after wearing a hat? That’s Hollywood for you.

In recent years there has been somewhat of a resurgence of male hat-wearing. First there was Harrison Ford wearing the familiar brown fedora in the Indiana Jones movies. Not long after that, comedian-magician-actor Harry Anderson wore a rather stylish fedora during guest appearances on Cheers. Then occasionally I’d see some actor like Johnny Depp wearing a gray fedora during an interview. More recently, TV shows like Mad Men have shown men wearing the very suave and sophisticated 1960s version of fedora, with a shorter brim, and actor James Spader wears a brown or black hat on the show The Blacklist. I’ve seen a couple of these very stylish “Don Draper style” hats in a local men’s shop, and I plan to purchase one in the near future. I’ve been silently hoping for some time that the hat would soon make a comeback, and that more and more men would abandon their baseball caps (nothing wrong with baseball caps when the occasion calls for them) and return, in spirit at least, to the days of yore when men wore tailored suits almost every day, usually with a hat. That has happened to some degree, but not as much as I’d hoped. Still, it is refreshing to see an occasional man with some variation of a fedora, especially if he also happens to be wearing a nice suit. The hat has not made a full comeback, but I’ll take what I can get.

I’ve heard it said that behind every revolution, there is always one man with a vision. Perhaps there is someone out there now who is also a hat lover. Someone who believes that, although clothes (and hats) do not make a man, they sure can help improve his appearance. Someone who is aware that every few decades, what is old is often new again. Someone who believes that we are on the threshold of a major comeback for the hat. To this man, wherever and whoever he may be…

I tip my hat to you. 78

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