Thursday, April 12, 2007

Redeeming the Man Hat

Having purchased a second hand kayak for negotiating our small, shallow but potentially treacherous river here in Norfolk, I am assailed by Nige, with his usual flare for controversy, about my choice of craft. I should, he says, have bought a canoe because a man can wear a hat in a canoe and possibly also a cardigan to go with the pipe he is smoking. A kayak, he asserts, is not appropriate for a real man. Nige then shoots himself in both feet by discovering two hats specifically made for Kayak Man - here and here. The first is, of course, just a baseball cap with the word 'kayak' on the front. I love, incidentally, the 'back view'. The second is more interesting in that it claims to be 'fully constructed' and is possessed of 'dark green under-brim, six ventilating eyelets, chinstrap and cord.' What more could a man ask? Well, in the long run, he could ask for a resolution of the hat problem. Men and hats, afloat or not, just don't work any more. I resolved long ago never again to buy a hat on holiday, a resolution that has hardened into a determination never to buy a hat at all. Once an emblem of dignity and social status, now hats advertise only affectation or an oppressive sportiness. What can be done to restore the male hat to its proper place?


  1. Wearing hats and smoking - the two principal male occupations only a few decades ago - seem set to pass from the earth in tandem. There must be a connection. I rely on you and your bulging-brained correspondents to tease it out...
    No-hat Nige (it's too late)

  2. I must admit I like a bit of a hat. Who was it that said – get ahead, get a hat? Well whoever it was I think they're spot on. By hats I don't mean baseball hats, although I have an unstructured baseball hat, if that's the term, from a rather natty book shop in Oxford Mississippi, which I occasionally wear on the privacy of my dog walk. The hats I like are trilbies - I wonder where the name comes from? Off to do some research.

  3. Right, the trilby according to Wikipedia

    The hat's name derives from a play based on George du Maurier's 1894 novel Trilby. A hat of this style was worn on stage during the play's first London production.

    Just as I looked that up on my random itunes up came 'Seven Come Eleven' by the Benny Goodman Sextet with the brilliant Charlie Christian - the perfect soundtrack.

  4. Spend some time in the tropics and you will rapidly discover the importance of a hat.

    Perhaps that's why the natives in India said only mad dogs and Englishmen went out in the heat of the day. If the Englishmen weren't wearing hats, they probably got sunstroke, fainted, and then *were* quite mad.

  5. But hats in the tropics make me sweat, if you'll pardon the expression.

  6. Here in the states John F Kennedy is credited with popularizing the hatless trend. By hats you mean traditional, formal hats. Well, formal attire is going out along with formal hats. Jeans and informal baseball caps are the trend nowadays. There is a variety of the baseball cap known in the midwest as "tractor hats", which are baseball style hats with a taller, straighter front panel that has the logo of a tractor company or seed distributer.

    Does anyone wear a hat that does not have a corporate or team name or logo anymore.

  7. The recent inexplicable Trilby phenomenon, coupled with the skinny jeans pandemic, gave me the final, much needed, nudge into the realisation that I am, in fact, getting old.

    Not that I expect any sympathy in these parts, mind, for I am still under 30. But this is what happens when you live in Camden. It's impossible to age gracefully here, and I've had quite enough disgrace.

    I also found myself moaning about how loud the music was in a shop the other day.

    I think you'd look rather fetching in a fez, Bryan.

  8. Johnny, I didn't quite wear a trilby the first time around but I'm a lot nearer my dad's age than I am Pete Doherty. I wear them properly, not like an extra out of Quadrophenia!

    You're still under 30? Wait 'til you get to over 50 like me. Someone even called me Mr. Havers the other day. I was forced to point out that Mr Havers was my dad.

  9. Re Richard Havers and the origins of Trilby...
    The fedora too takes its name from a play (there is also an opera of the same name, and a fine late film by Billy Wilder). These are surely the only hats named after plays - and, oddly, they are virtually the same hat. Funny old world, as Wittgenstein once remarked.

  10. Quite so, Richard - it's not the Trilby I have a problem with per se, just the swaggering TopShop teen try-hards who are driving me toward an early midlife crisis.

    By 50 I hope to have negotiated the home jukebox/motorcycle phase which seems to afflict panic-stricken male midlife without grave incident. Only then will I consider a Trilby.

  11. As far as I'm concerned, any man who has successfully pried his head out of his ass is more than welcome to plop a hat on it.

  12. Bryan, you are truly blessed with such well read commenters, with a wealthy source of commendable information.

    My contribution: Baseball caps are for Chavs. But as (like myself) you're a Norfolkian, a Flat Cap should suit!

  13. Pete Doherty wrote the immortal lines: "There's few more distressing sights than that/ Of an Englishman in a baseball hat."

    It is strange how hats went out of style. One thing that stands out in these ancient Friese-Greene style pre-war films is that absolutely EVERYBODY wears a hat.

  14. I am indeed blessed, Lee, but I am not strictly a Norfolk man. I'm a Mancunian via London. Here I am an interloper, an incomer, but it feels very like home and a pint of Wherry is a great joy.

  15. Who would have thought a simple post about hats would have elicited such a response. It seems that Hats 'R' Us

  16. I realise you're not strictly a Norfolk man, Bryan. But I thought you'd appreciate the acceptance;)

  17. As there are many poetry lovers on here, let me post an apposite verse. This is by my friend and favorite poet, Ted Kooser.

    "The Little Hats"

    I saw the old men hanging down under their little hats/
    as the hats pulled them stumbling along--/
    those polyester hats with little checkers,/
    with little feathers, yellow and red--/
    and their eyes were wide behind their shiny glasses,/
    and their cries pinched off and blue.

    And when they had passed, and the bitter squeal/
    of their cane tips braking had faded,/
    I saw there in the enormous window/
    of the secondhand store, cast off, a row of little hats,/
    streamlined and swift, their engines idling.

    From _Weather Central_, U. of Pittsburgh Press, 1994

  18. As an after-thought, the words of Aldous Huxley are truly apposite in this issue; "Only a large-scale popular movement toward decentralization and self-help can arrest the present tendency toward statism. At present there is no sign that such a movement will take place.'

    Perhaps the resurgence of the hat to its rightful place atop the human head could be a crucial tool in the igniting of such a movement.

  19. It seems to me that fear of skin cancer is the main reason that most men buy hats these days. In fact, almost every Australian I've met wears a hat while out and about.

  20. Hats are in with the young, as well as the resurgence of the trilby I have noticed a peaked version of the beanie that seems to becoming popular.
    I'm with Bryan though I struggle to find a hat that feels comfortable or doesn't make me look like I am pretending to be something other than I am.

  21. Well I'd like to defend the cap and the freedom to choose what is quite a practical hat. Fashion shouldn't exist, all styles should be allowed at any time and I won't stop wearing a peaked cap because of other people's prejudice. Surely there are undesirables wearing every kind of garment. What Pete Doherty says is of no interest to me, I actually think caps can suit the English man as our hair isn't always a strong point, and I once read a tip in a magazine that wearing a hat with a long peak helped balance a long nose. I also read the other day that there was a time when people chose glasses that suited their face but now everyone wears the same narrow rectangular style - how true that is! If the cap suits wear it.

  22. I would love men to start wearing hats again. And suits too. I quite like that 1950s look, a la Cary Grant. So smart. And masculine (although, didn't he turn out to be a bit Stoke. Never mind). And women too. Yes. Women in hats - we don't see enough of it. In fact, I would like to see a hat revolution. And what's wrong with affectation? All fashion is affectation. Wear you hat with pride, Bryan.

  23. You're a Manc, Bryan, but the Blue side, right?

    I hope you could find it in your heart to treasure English footy's greatest ever night of European competition this week, even though the shirts were red.

    If only Carrick or Ronaldo had got one more, this comment would also be at least figuratively relevant to the subject of the post.

  24. It seems my main thought disappeared regarding Nige's question of the decline of the hat and smoking disappeared into the ether, thus making my after-thought a bit odd. Here goes again.
    A thought that possibly randomly flickered into view(though what is random) was Margaret Thatcher's infamous line, "There is no society." This was followed with a brilliant exposition on how power is never satiated but wants ever more power. This achieved in the state by a process of centralisation, and the erosion of its citizens sense of themselves both as themselves and as members of society. The hat and smoking comprised an essential part of this psychological and sociological make-up, as was observed did the playing of dominos which has also declined drastically over a very similar time-scale. With such bulwarks of individual and societal consciousness eroded, modern man was left helpless against the assault of an malignant, hypnotising idiot culture, which brings us full circle to the whoile point of the venture. So in short, man's sense of himself bound up in smoking, the wearing of a hat, and the playing of dominos. Using the weapons of propaganda, these were made appear old-fashioned/undesirable, etc. Sense of personality and society crumble. Triumph of evil.
    Solution: bring back smoking, wearing of hats, and playing of dominos.

  25. A die-hard smoker here, Andrew. I'm going to wait till I'm over forty (if the fags don't get me before then) to dust off the double-breasted suit and don my fedora. Dominos? No. Will chess do?

  26. Andrew - you've got it, I'm sure - brilliant. And Neil - Cary Grant's suit in His Girl Friday. Enough said.

  27. But girls don't do hats much either, and that's a great pity. I'm keeping the distaff side up with a raspberry beret, a tweed baker-boy cap, and a floppy, 70's 'Rhoda' (remember that?) big-brimmed titfer. They get you lots of attention.

  28. Is their rightful place in the cupboard?

    If so, easy. Just say no.

    If it is the place of dignity and beauty, then the trilby is the only answer, and you must never worry about the teenagers of Camden! My dauhgter has a torquoise felt trilby from Claire's Accessories but I think she would be no competition for a man in a hat.

    Of course, the current tendency of men to wear ill-fitting T shirts and fleeces does nothing to provide a suitable foundation for a hat.

    Pete Doherty is right re the baseball hats, by the way, and I'd add that they're equally horrible on everyone else too.

    I used to wear lots of hats - I had some lovely berets and things. Not sure why I don't, now. Maybe I'll start again.

  29. Thanks Nige and Neil. Chess will certainly do, although I have a feeling dominos more appropriate to the Briton, while in a smokey pub wearing a hat, of course. Though I think we were all a little amiss in failing to mention pipe smoking which has really disappeared from the earthly firmament. ALways loved the smell from elderly relations' pipes.

  30. As you're guilty of starting this surprisingly healthy debate Bry, I suggest the Campaign starts here! Bring Back the Hat!

  31. I'm with binx. The "flat at" or cap is truly classless as well as supremely practical.

    Incidentally, after going open necked for the last 20 years, I have been forced to start wearing a tie by the desperate attempts of politicians and others to appear casual. It would be terrible to be thought to be following a trend!

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