Wearing many ‘hats,’ a good hat is hard to find

This is my weekly column from the Sunday, March 22, 2009 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. I read a version of this piece for the March 21 edition of “Between You and Me” on KAXE.

Wearing many ‘hats,’ a good hat is hard to find
By Aaron J. Brown

Let me begin by saying that I long for the old days. I know the picture you see next to this column shows a youthful face, but the picture is old and you haven’t seen me with my shirt off. With three kids, a mortgage and frustrations that become a little more cliché each year, I feel I’ve earned the right. Specifically, I long for days that happened before I was born, when men could wear hats in a non-ironic way.

We’ve all seen the pictures from 19th and 20th century logging and mining camps. Historical photos show ubiquitous headwear at old time political rallies, in church pictures and ancient portraits from company newsletters. The men and women of the early monochromatic pages of our family albums all seem to be wearing hats.

Sure, people still wear fedoras, wool caps, bowlers and brimmed straw sun-hats. But there are only two ways to do so legitimately: 1) having been alive long enough to have experienced the hat craze in real time, or 2) wearing these hats in an ironic way designed to draw attention to yourself. This second group often includes the same people who still listen to records because they “prefer the smooth sound to digital.” That’s probably true and also you sound pretentious. Nobody really wears hats any more. Southern and western politicians are sometimes expected to wear cowboy hats. We Minnesotans wear hats during the winter to prevent us from succumbing to hypothermia. Many men and some women wear ball caps, the “C student” of the hat world, on occasion, but never to a high occasion – again, unless the caps are worn ironically as a sign of defiance. Hats are out.

Strangely, despite the long decline of the hat, people are wearing more metaphorical hats than ever. You know what I’m talking about: The hat expression overused to the point of criminal negligence. Suzie wears many “hats” at the office, one for being the receptionist, the other for being the only one who knows how to use the fire extinguisher, and yet another for being the only person who knows why knowing how to use the fire extinguisher is a specifically important skill when working with Smoker Ted down in the Microfiber Division.

Along these lines, I wear many “hats.” The “hat” I’m wearing now is the one I put on to write things like this for people like you to read or hear. (You’re a real person, aren’t you? Oh, I hope you’re real). I wear another hat in the classroom, another to play with my kids, another for various community endeavors. I’ve got so many metaphorical “hats” that sometimes I don’t even remember which one I’m wearing and which one is shoved back in a corner of my metaphorical “garage” with my metaphorical “weed whacker.” Perhaps what I really need is a metaphorical “hat rack.” I’m betting that would require therapy, which is way more expensive than “therapy.”

Maybe the waning popularity of real hats and the overtaxation of metaphorical ones are, in fact, related. Maybe when people stopped wearing stylish hats as a regular part of their wardrobe something came unhinged in our brains and we suddenly became multitasking maniacs. Maybe what I really need is not therapy, or herbs or stress relief pills, but rather to slide on a warm brown felt fedora on a cool spring morning. I could walk by brick buildings on damp streets with a calm swagger, tip back that hat to look up to the deep blue sky. Someone else with a hat would walk by and call out, “Mornin.’” I could tip my hat back down from the wisps of clouds above, nod and call back, “Mornin.’”

Too bad hats are out.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com. His new book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” is out now.

Comments

  1. For some of us hats are always in – I would not go out without one. 😀

  2. Oh, I enjoy hats … wore one today. But they’ll never be as integral a part of the culture and fashion as they used to be. A pity. 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    Never say never, people thought that bell bottoms and huge sunglasses were a thing of the past. Along with retro automobile detailing, these nuances of a of a stylistically hip culture that was thought dead have come back to haunt us.

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