Men don’t wear hats anymore and when the hat disappeared, society lost a practice both gracious and courteous. I can’t remember the last time I saw a man in a hat, not counting the ubiquitous baseball cap which is worn day or night, backwards or forwards, indoors or outdoors, depending upon the whim of the wearer.
I own a baseball cap. It’s black and covered with sequins and there are no rules to designate whether my cap is daytime sports apparel or nighttime formal regalia.
I wear hats. A habit from my upbringing in New York City where sensible people wore hats to keep warm, to keep cool, to keep dry, to look as though they meant business or to look festive, the Easter bonnet, for example.
When the last scruffy youth (he belonged to granddaughter No. 3) came to the Sunday dinner table at my house, he was in need of a shave, wore a knit beanie, no shoes, no shirt, and blue jeans at half-mast. I couldn’t take it anymore and, as politely as possible, sent the young fellow off to finish dressing much to my granddaughter’s embarrassment. “And, take off the beanie.” I called after him, ” unless without my knowledge my granddaughter is dating a rabbinical student.”
The traditional hat is more than tradition, more than an article of clothing; it is a metaphor as in, pass the hat or throw your hat into the ring, or I will come with hat in hand. I hope not too many of you will read this and think I’m talking through my hat.
During the early years of the 20th century, the Homburg was the choice of well-dressed men, and then the fedora took over. It’s a comfortable hat with a low, creased crown, pinched at the front end and with a brim that can be worn up or down.
The fedora came into existence as a woman’s hat. I watched an old black and white movie on the Turner Classic Movie Channel last night and there, for those of you old enough to remember her, was the beautiful actress Spring Byington, wearing a fedora. It had a few artificial flowers on the brim but it was a recognizable fedora.
I Googled hats and found to my amazement that the felt fedora is as popular as ever with fashion conscious young
men and a best seller in 2009. You can purchase a satin-lined, felt fedora with a leather sweatband for $150.
My father, a carpenter by trade, who wore a fedora to work every day, winter or summer, didn’t make that much money in a month. I remember him coming home and taking off his hat to reveal the brown/orange stain from the sweatband encircling his head of white hair.
Movie star Humphrey Bogart wore a fedora in publicity photos as he leered through the smoke of his ever-present cigarette. The snap brim black hat, the Homburg, regained popularity with the proliferation of mafia movies.
Men tipped their hats when greeting a woman. They removed their hats upon entering a house. These were signs of respect but, today, as Rodney Dangerfield put it, “I don’t get no respect.”
I wonder if the lack of respect young men seem to have for themselves, for society in general and for women in particular, leads to their undisciplined behavior, their over casual dress, and the horrific news stories currently filling our airways with incidents of brutality, rape and murder.
Perhaps my theory is a little far-fetched, but it causes me to wonder. And if you find it feasible, there’s no need to keep it under your hat.
Editor’s note: This is the last column that Margaret Sherick wrote for The Cambrian before her passing on Saturday at the age of 81.
Margaret’s signature style as a late-to-the-game newspaper columnist was one of gentility and grace, combined with sharp insights and an indefatigable sense of humor. She dearly loved her life and friends among the pines that she and husband John made during their tenure in Cambria. Her passing will leave a hole in the fabric of the community, but her infectious spirit will live on. Hats off, Margaret! Happy trails.
— Bill Morem