People who know me know I like to wear hats. I always have.
Growing up in an upper-Midwestern city, where the weather is more winter than summer most of the year, I wore knit stocking caps all through elementary school, mostly for functional reasons — to keep warm. I had my own style that was different than my friends. More gnome than Navy man.
At 13, I used my own money to buy a black beret, and that became my main accessory for the next seven years, except in summer when it would get hot and muggy and I would replace it with a bandana. I still wore it for the same functionality reasons, but now it was combined with fashion. I loved the way the beret looked, and the way it made me feel — poetic, bohemian, unconventional.
My backup, which I wore from time to time as a change of pace, was a floppy blue-jean cap with a brim. What I wanted it to look like was Bob Marley from the “Rastaman Vibration” album cover, but what it usually looked like in my mind was Stevie Wonder circa-1974.
I was an athlete, and was known all over town as such, but it was always musicians and artists who informed my sense of style.
In 1976, Dylan came out with his “Desire” album. The hat he wore on the cover, which is the same look he had on the Rolling Thunder Review tour and in the “Renaldo and Clara” movie, became my coveted ideal, but it would be several more years before I would move into the realm of such fancy felt hats.
The late ’70s and early ’80s found me living in the Sonoran Desert, where it was always hot and sometimes scorching. So I went back to bandanas, with my alternate being an African skull cap. I had yet to discover the usefulness of straw hats.
Finally, around 1990, I started getting serious with my hat collection. I wasn’t in a position to buy a nicer-quality felt hat, so I started with a black wool hat from the Golden Gate Hat Company. There were many occasions, while wearing that hat, that I was mistaken, in airports and restaurants, for Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Many hats followed, including several styles of cowboy hats, fedoras, Panama hats, flat caps and more.
Thing about hats, the good ones stick around for a long time. Last night, I wore a Stetson to the concert, which I bought 26 years ago, and today I’m wearing the Borsalino my wife bought me for my birthday 10 years ago.
There are admittedly too many hats on the shelf in my room, but this reflection upon my hat habit shall cause me, now, to weed out the ones that are either too grungy or I don’t wear anymore.
It sometimes shocks people to see me without a hat, because they’re not used to the sight of my shiny pate. They think that’s the reason I wear the hats, and while I won’t deny there is definitely a coming to terms with it that has to happen for all of us follicly challenged men — and women, too — that’s only part of it. I think I am wise/stable/confident enough to know and understand that your hair is not your soul and it does not speak to or of your character. Neither is or does your hat.
As has been the case since that first beret, I still wear hats for reasons that are part function and part fashion, for color, poetry and unconventionality. A hundred years ago, it was unusual for men not to wear hats. If it ever becomes so again, I’ll probably find something else to do as an expression of nonconformity.