Friday, January 15, 2010

National Hat Day

Happy National Hat Day! I bet you didn't know it was National Hat Day. But that's why we here at FreeTime exist - to share facts with you that you didn't know you cared about it till the moment you read it.

In honor of National Hat Day, I'm re-posting a piece I originally wrote in December 2008 called Men Without Hats, in which I argued for a glorious return to our head-covered past. Here ya go:

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the youngest elected President in United States history. As he went through the carefully orchestrated ceremony of the day, he did so hatless. Kennedy believed hats made him look old so he refused to be photographed in one. Considered the most glamorous and sophisticated man in the world, JFK’s bare head was a dagger to the hat industry, whose sales dropped precipitously and never recovered.

That’s how the story has always been told anyway. An entire book was even written about it (Hatless Jack: The Presidency, The Fedora, and the History of American Style). It turns out to be a myth, though, effectively skewered by Snopes.

Still, something happened. Men used to wear hats. Picture large crowds at a baseball game from the first half of the 20th century and every guy’s got a fedora, a bowler, a derby – some kind of stylish headgear.

The ubiquity of hats was perfectly captured in this exchange from Seinfeld*:

Elaine: You should have lived in the 20's and 30's. You know men wore hats all the time then.
George: What a bald paradise that must have been! Nobody knew!

* Seinfeld is to 21st century Americans what the Bible was to Western Civilization for thousands of years – the text that provides wise and relevant quotes on nearly every subject.

Government Bailout for Hat Industry?
I bring all this up because we’ve had some nasty weather in New York lately. Snow, sleet, howling wind, freezing rain. And as I walk the city streets I see men in suits coping with the weather in one of four ways:

  • Baseball hat
  • Wool cap
  • Umbrella*
  • Bare head

The first two look ridiculous with a suit. The third is overkill. And the fourth is too stupid to merit comment.

* There are two types of umbrellas. The tiny ones, which aren't much bigger than a hat. And the huge golf umbrellas. I have a message to those guys with the huge ones, the ones that are designed to cover Tiger Woods, his caddy, his golf bag, and the entire 14th green: Everybody hates you.

A handful of us, me included, were wearing wide-brimmed hats. Mine is a brown Indiana Jones-type thing. I get a lot of abuse for this hat, best summed up by my son as I returned from work one evening. “You wear that in public?”

But it’s a wonderful thing. It keeps my head warm. The wide brim collects flakes and repels light rain. And in my opinion, it’s rather stylish. All I need now is for hats to come back in style so I can wear it with slightly less embarrassment than I do today.

And there is one man who has the power to bring it back. On January 20, 2009, the glamorous and sophisticated Barack Obama will take office. Will he go bareheaded, a la the mythical Jack Kennedy? Or will he don a snap-brim fedora, tilted at a rakish angle. If he does the latter, look for the comeback of the hat industry.

Now that’s change I can believe in.

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