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As many of you don’t know, for the past couple of years I’ve been, in my own small way, attempting to start a fad. I want to see men wearing hats like they did a couple of generations ago. The dictionary defines a fad as “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.”
My “intense and widely shared enthusiasm” is hats. Men’s hats, to be precise. I have nothing against women, or their hats – especially those containing fruit – but I am more familiar with the hats worn by men, especially in “the good old days” depicted in those great movies of the ’30s and ’40s. Back then our anti-heroes played by actors like Humphrey Bogart or George Raft wore a nicely shaped fedora with a smart snap brim they could pull down, creating a bit of mystery to their persona.
This interest in men’s hats began when, while researching the past, I began to notice that in photos of large crowds taken in the era from the 1920s to the 1950s, the men all wore hats. A well-known photo from the Depression showed men in a long line for a hot meal. Every one of them wore a hat. As if there were a law that if you were outside you had to have a hat on your head. It was the kind of law not covered in official records, but was all too evident among mothers of that era tied to the commandment that “thou shall not go out in the cold without a hat and scarf.”
The hat style most likely to be on the head of a man of that era was the fedora, the hat worn by Al Capone and other mobsters, with the wide brim that snapped down to keep the eyes hidden in shadow, the crown squeezed to a point with two dimples. Popular among mobsters.
Today’s men can blame the loss of hats as a fashion statement on John F. Kennedy and his hatless inauguration in 1960. He was young and good looking and didn’t need a hat to enhance his good looks, especially his head of dark hair so thick you could make a rug out of it. We were much more inclined towards manners and protocol in those days. While men had their hats, women were required to wear gloves to protect their fragile hands. Fancy leather gloves in the winter, cotton ones in summer.
Hats are a simple way of making a statement. The type of hat and the way it was worn created a specific image. Think of Don Draper in the popular television series “Mad Men.” Would he have been so cool wearing a baseball cap instead of a fedora? And hats serve a practical purpose – in cold weather they keep you warm and in hot weather they cool you off. Speaking of hot weather, a straw Panama hat worn with a white linen suit will keep you as cool as a Singapore Sling at a cricket match.
So if you want to be that cool get yourself a nice felt fedora, snap that brim into shape and show the world how brave you are. And when you step outside to light up that fat cigar, don’t forget your hat.
Bob Kalish observes life from a placid place on the island of Arrowsic (motto: You’re not in Georgetown yet). You can reach him at email@example.com.