It is true – I should probably have been born a few decades earlier than I actually was. And today I can think of one more reason – men got to wear hats. I mean that they got to wear hats without standing out and looking like they are trying to make a statement.
I have always been drawn to mens’ dress hats, like the fedoras that were so popular until John Kennedy sort of killed the style for anyone then under fifty years old. My father was younger than Kennedy and I can never recall him wearing a hat, and he was like most of the dads of my age group.
By the time I was in college, a man wearing a hat meant that the man was quite elderly. My roommate Dan and I put this phenomenon to use in driving. Once we started paying attention, we could see that almost every time we got stuck behind a poky driver and that driver was a male, he would be an old guy wearing – you guessed it – a hat.
They seemed to be found most often (thought not always) in Dodge sedans – usually green or brown. This was useful. Not everyone in a green or brown Dodge sedan was a slow driver, but every Dodge sedan driven by a man with a hat was to be avoided at all costs. When you had a choice of lanes in traffic and one of those lanes was occupied by a driver ahead of you who was wearing a hat (especially if that car was a Dodge sedan), it was best to choose a different lane if you were in any hurry at all.
There have been a couple of times when I thought that hats might make a comeback, but they never really have. When Raiders Of The Lost Ark took the box office by storm, Harrison Ford’s big brown fedora became a thing for at least a little while.
It was around that time when I went into a department store and bought the only decent hat I ever owned – a soft, brown Dobbs fedora with a nicely sized brim. I kind of liked the look when paired with my brown fake leather bomber jacket, but it didn’t go so well with the navy blue or gray suits I favored. I later bought a less expensive black fedora, but never liked it as well.
I tried to wear the brown hat regularly, but it never really worked for me. First, nobody else in my age group was wearing hats, and there was never a convenient place to put it when I went out somewhere. Also there was the problem of “hat hair”. This would not have been a problem if buzz cuts or the slicked-down look had been a thing at that time. But they were not, so every time I removed my hat there was the indentation that marked where my hat had been that was impossible to comb out once the hat came off.
I tried to keep the hat thing alive for awhile. After I quit trying to make them a fashion thing, I kept them handy for cold days when dress clothes were necessary. That practice came to an ignominious end one blustery day in downtown Indianapolis.
I had to drive downtown for a court appearance early one afternoon. It was one of those days where the weather took a hard dip in temperature, accompanied by high winds and blowing snow. I had a briefcase that I needed to take. I tried to put it into the trunk, but when I turned the key and heard the click of the lock releasing, the trunk lid remained frozen shut. I tried a quick “finger pry” but heard my father’s voice in my head saying “don’t force it”. Every time I ignored that voice, I would break or tear something, so I decided to pay heed. I put my briefcase in the back seat and started downtown.
I was nearing my destination when I stopped for a traffic light at one of the busiest intersections downtown. The car had warmed up and the interior was becoming comfortable as teeny pellets of snow pelted the car and the defroster struggled to keep the ice clear. It was at that moment that the weatherstrips around my trunk thawed sufficiently for a big gust of wind to blow my trunk lid open.
Rats. I had not thought to try to shove the frozen lid back down to re-latch it. I opened my door and jumped out to slam the trunk lid. That was when another gust came from behind and caught the brim of my good Dobbs hat and sent it flying. It hit the ground about fifty feet away. I briefly thought about abandoning my idling car and running after it. Until it blew under the city bus that was driving through the intersection. That sort of made my decision and I got back into my car and continued (hatless) to my destination.
I thought about replacing it, but knew by then that a dress hat just didn’t suit my lifestyle. I still had the cheaper black one and still pulled it out when I needed to be outside in dress clothes on a really cold day, but that was not a common occurrence. The last time I saw it was when one of my kids wanted to use it as part of a Halloween costume. Part of me wanted it back undamaged, but another part of me realized that once your kids choose an item of your apparel for a Halloween costume, it is done for in terms of self respect. The hat went somewhere at some point in time, and that was that.
But I wonder if now is the time to resurrect a hat in my life. A dermatologist told me that the sun is not my best friend and I found a hat that I wear outdoors on sunny days. I tried to find one that recreated the look of those classic Panama hats worn with the off-white suits by the guys in the 1930s movies, but I don’t think it is quite there. At least not judging by the way my children roll their eyes at it. But I am reaching the age where I no longer care if my children roll their eyes.
Perhaps it is time to go online and order myself a hat or two. Maybe I am old enough to cultivate a personal style. Then all I will need is a Dodge sedan. Or maybe a Mercury.
COAL Update: Five years can seem like a long time, but the right car can make that time go quickly.