When I was a child, my dad wore a hat. It was usually a fedora in the fall, winter, and spring. He went through a phase where he wore a soft grey ascot cap or flat cap, I’m not sure of its correct name. In summer he wore a lightweight white Panama hat, but I don’t recall him wearing that hat with any frequency. He wore a bedraggled straw hat when he did field work on his tractor. That was before the age of tractor cabs. I can’t remember him ever wearing a baseball cap. He may have, but an image of his head covered with a ball cap is not in the archives of my memories. The point is, I thought my dad’s hat was very much a part of his uniform so to speak, the way he dressed to go out into the world, as if he wasn’t quite complete without his hat. I suspect that was the era, the age when men wore hats. I can still see him gently removing his hat when he came home and placing it in the closet on the shelf above the coats. He placed it carefully as though the hat mattered and when he had taken it off, set it on the shelf, with all his worries and concerns tucked firmly inside the hat, he could relax to be his I’m-home-self. I don’t remember when his hat wearing ceased to be part of his clothing. I just remember he stopped wearing a hat, like when he shaved off his moustache and no one noticed.
I searched for the reason men stopped wearing hats. I couldn’t find any definitive answers other than the head clearance in cars was dramatically reduced. A survey was taken post-World War II as to why men would or wouldn’t wear a hat and apparently, many men said they didn’t want to be reminded of having to wear a hat, reminding them of a uniform that took them to horrific experiences and suffering. That makes sense. They say when an item of clothing was first worn for function and the function vanishes, then the item of clothing becomes purely decorative and dies away eventually. I’m not sure who “they” are.
My mother wore a hat to church on special Sundays, not every Sunday. My sister and I wore new bonnets at Easter complete with white gloves. I remember wanting to protest, but I have no recall of why I didn’t like to wear a hat. I only remember feeling uncomfortable, as if I was trying to be someone I was not. I didn’t like that feeling and it seems in many Easter photos from my childhood I look annoyed.
A hat represents authority and power, those same “they” say. Probably those in a secret room, making all the decisions and naming all the things. Maybe we don a hat to feel as though we are worthy, our very own crown, the king and queen of our own castle. I admire people who wear a hat. I can’t pull it off. I’ve tried. Twice, I thought maybe a hat was just what I needed, to shake up life a bit, to look like I was in charge, to become a new and improved version of myself. In charge of what, I wonder. Before I got two blocks away from the hat shop, I was filled with regret, with a deep-down certainty I was never going to wear that hat. I didn’t return the hat. Perhaps I would grow into it, come to like the hat, but that never happened. I don’t remember getting rid of either of those hats, but they no longer occupy space in my home.
Women still wear hats at the Kentucky Derby. That is a tradition that has held up. I’m guessing they have a lot of fun choosing the perfect hat, but I find the whole thing quite a bit of nonsense. I’m not a fan of racing two-year-olds, but that’s a story for another day. It turns out no one is interested in my opinion on a subject I have no business weighing in on.
I am happy wearing my ball cap. I pull on my Roger Federer cap if I need to keep the sun out of my eyes or hide a bad hair day or to keep the top of my head warm. A ball cap isn’t any kind of statement. It’s a one-size fits all sort of thing, a hat that goes with everything, especially with me. No fascinator on my head; not in a million years.