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Fedora Anxiety

JeffAndHatDehalftoned1992.jpgThis morning’s Wall Street Journal persuaded me that I am, for once, way ahead of the curve. The A-head story documents the Millennials’ puzzlement over hat etiquette: When should I wear them indoors? They are baffled. They are struggling. Deep within their sensitive souls, they are suffering.

Perhaps I can help: Listen up, people! Outdoors is for hats! Indoors is for heads! Sabe?

Deafening silence. So it goes.

My father wore a felt fedora to work every day, even when he had to change it out for a hard hat when he arrived at a job site to help clueless technicians figure out why an industrial gas main was delivering only half the methane that it was supposed to. A felt fedora was part of the company uniform, and he was unapologetically a company man.

The uniform changed in the first half of the 1960s, and the canonical felt fedora almost became extinct. The newly hip in the Sixties thought that hats smelled too much like the Fifties. Ewwwww, can’t have that. (This is the same reason that Unix fanatics in the First Age declared that Capital Letters Are For Engraving In Stone: Capital letters smelled too much like COBOL. Ewwwww, can’t have that.) My father reluctantly complied, reluctantly because he had only a little more hair than I do. It turned out all right because he was working in Chicago, where we saw the sun maybe once every three weeks in the winter.

Fast-forward to 1990: Jeff and Carol move to Arizona to launch PC Techniques. Down there it’s the other way around: We saw clouds maybe once every three weeks in the winter. And in the summer. (Except for two months’ worth of late summer monsoon, when we saw a few every afternoon. A few.) Jeff (who has less hair than his father, and almost none since the late 1980s) gets scorched a time or two, up top where your skin is so thin that you can feel bottom.

Jeff, doing what makes sense, buys a hat. I had one by late summer 1990, but it wasn’t until the April/May 1992 issue of the magazine that I appeared along with my hat. (See my editorial photo above.)

Oh, the humanity. Half the readership seemed to think I’d be better off wearing a dead skunk. The other half said nothing. Even the ever-so-always-polite-and-considerate George Ewing (peace be upon him, and is) wrote in a letter-of-comment: “I dunno about the hat.”

I stuck with it. Pace Woody Allen, my brain is my first favorite organ, and this was Arizona we were talking about. (Your brain doesn’t need drugs down there. No questions.) Over subsequent years I bought a lot more hats, and now a quick count shows eleven, plus a twelfth that I leave in Chicago just in case the sun ever comes out when I’m in town. True, a couple are special-purpose, like my Ben Franklin Kite-Flying Hat, and a formal felt business cowboy hat that I had custom-made by Ronald Reagan’s hatmaker in 2000, during which I had my idiosyncratic skull measured by a mechanical hat sizer machine built in 1910.

Wearing a hat was a contrarian act in 1992, so it was a good fit for me. And now in 2010, a fifty-year ice age in the hat industry has come to an end. Having tasted the sweet nectar of hattedness, the Millennials can’t bear to take them off for a second, perhaps fearing that another Ice Age is just around the corner. One is. Wearing your hat in the bathroom won’t help.

A hat is a roof over your brain. You only need one roof. When you step under one, take off the other. It’s that simple.


  1. Larry N says:

    Hooray for hats. Rain drops have become colder and bigger as my hair has thinned. My preference is for a plain, tan, logo-less ball cap. They are hard to find, everybody wants to turn your forehead into a gaudy billboard.

    I take off my hat in restaurants and solve the where-to-put-it question by stuffing it in the sleave of my jacket. It pops out magically in my hand as I put on my jacket.

    It is not lost upon me that my hat preference is the same as I saw my Dad wear every day. He was a carpenter.

  2. The sudden decline in hats is traditionally blamed on JFK, but I suspect that in the 60s, when hair became a medium for self expression, it didn’t make sense to wear a hat over it.

    My perspective on hats is a little different. I have enough hair yet that my scalp doesn’t get fried, so I tend to wear my Tilly hat only when I’ll be outside for long periods of time, in an effort to keep the sun from burning my face and my eyes.

    I took to wearing a felt fedora (Indiana Jones style) in the early 90s, particularly during my stint as a camp councilor, once again to keep the sun (and pine needles and precipitation) off my head. Nobody in particular commented. I was already thought of as a weirdo.


  3. As to hat-wearing indoors, they drummed that into us in /gradeschool/ – hats off in the building. Sheesh.


  4. Carrington Dixon says:

    Cowboy hats never went completely out of style here in Texas. We need ’em here for much the same reason you need ’em in Arizona.

  5. Bill Dillon says:

    Hats are essential for geezers like me with thin hair, living in Texas. I have a nice “Indiana Jones” style fedora, but I can’t stuff it up my sleeve as Larry N does with his cap when dining in restaurants. Accordingly, I usually wear a Tilley hat that can be rolled up or even sat on in such establishments. I think a full brim hat is the most practical since it can shade your face AND the back of your neck at the same time. (I once wore a gimme cap backwards for a very short period. Fortunately, my IQ has finally recovered. I’m not so sure of some others.)

    I agree with Jeff D. and others that hats are OUTDOOR garments.

  6. Tony says:

    Never wore hats until the Army. Then we learned to wear them right… and outside only.

    These days I wear a Tilly hat when it is raining or really hot. Hate water on my glasses and don’t care to suffer heat stress or sun stroke. Had the sun stroke as a kid and didn’t care for it then either.

    I’ve owned a few hats over the years, just what does a person do with them indoors.

    So it goes, if it is raining out, Tony wears his hat. 😀

  7. Brook Monroe says:

    I wear a hat to Disney World to protect against UV pounding on my pate during the visits. I wear a John Deere hat when I mow because I ride a John Deere. I’m not really outside long enough to take any serious sun damage, but it seems like the thing to do.

    I managed not to have a hat during our invasion of Washington, D.C., but since we were indoors so much, I got out without too much head bake.

    Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

  8. Reading the article on hat etiquette, it’s amusing that these young fellas are thinking along the same lines as classic hat etiquette for hats indoors. The problem is the classic etiquette that permitted them was for women. When the hat was pinned to your hair and part of your hairdoo, you wore it indoors.


  9. Jim Mischel says:

    Yes! Hats are for outside only. I was taught (before I went to military school) that wearing your hat inside is a sign of disrespect.

    I still have quite a bit of of hair, although it’s thinning. And I typically cut it very short, so I wear a ball cap when I’m out working in the yard. And I wear a scarf under my bicycle helmet when I go for a long ride.

  10. Shannon Karl says:

    I remember that photo of you quite well, Jeff. I liked the hat!

  11. […] hat size/shape measuring gadget that I mentioned in my entry for August 11, 2010 is called a c onformateur, and here’s a whole bunch of pictures. It’s evidently a lot […]

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