Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Does anyone still wear a hat?"

"I'll drink to that!"

A friend of mine came over recently and commented on the hats I have hanging in the hallway.  "How many hats do have??" --- the only truthful answer to that question is: never enough.

Hats /fedoras - more specifically "pork pies" (both diamond and traditional - brim always snapped up) are my addiction.  Carrie Bradshaw had shoes... I have hats.

My Grandpa Lavey passed away when I was in third grade, and I have few memories of him.  What I do remember clearly were the times he would come to my house for some family event and I would meet him at the top of the stairs to take his hat and put it in the bedroom with the coats.  Grandpa always wore a hat - at least in the cooler months.  He either wore a tweed flat cap or a tweed trilby (fedora-ish) that were so popular among older men in the 1980s.

Grandpa's hats were so unique to me in a world of cheap baseball hats. This was the 80s after all.. think trucker hats with mesh backs and advertisements on the front -- Grandpa's hats were classy.  For some reason I remember can clearly remember examining his hats with the satin lining and thinking this was just too cool!  A young fogey was born!

When Grandpa died, my Grandmother gave his clothes to anyone in the family who could get use out of them.  My Grandfather had a small hat size compared to most men - but his caps just happened to fit eight year old me.. who probably had a big head compared to most kids.  I was given one of the tweed flat caps he always wore.  I was thrilled.

Not being a sports fan (at all!), it never felt right wearing baseball caps.  There was a year in college where I bought every color ball cap with my University's logo on it that I could find.. but it never felt right.  I didn't want to wear a hat so closely associated with something I personally didn't relate to (baseball) - nor did I want to be a walking advertisement for something.. even if it was my school.  I ended up giving all my caps to my father who to this day tells people that he helped give me an education and all he got was a hat with the university's logo on it!  :)

In the early 2000s I was shopping with a friend at a local flea market and came across a stand that sold clothing.  The stand offered a small selection of cheap wool felt fedoras in only one style - but multiple colors and sizes.  It was a religious awakening!  I had always so closely identified with the 1940s and 50s and here was THE symbol (to me) of men of that era.  I wore the hat home.

Initially I only wore the hat to Church when I was dressed in a shirt and tie - but as I learned more about hats (the different crown styles - materials - brim widths - etc) and expanded my collection, I decided to just make them part of my every day attire.  Once I got passed the awkward "everyone is starring at me..." phase - the hat simply became a part of me and my personality -and now people identify me with the hats I wear: "I saw this guy in a fedora today and I thought of you!"

I think a lot of people have safety blankets - a ring, a watch, shoes, hats, purses - whatever it is - that either consciously or subconsciously have become a part of their persona -- becomes their symbol and their own little shield against whatever bogeyman might be out there in life.  Perhaps those same items act more as an empowering attribute that just makes them feel damn good about themselves when they put it on.  I haven't gone out of the house without a hat on literally in years --- and if I do leave the house without a hat, the breeze on my bald head makes me stop -- "wait... something feels different... MY HAT!  Dammit!!" -- and then I have to rush up three flights of stairs to get one.

The irony of my obsession?  I don't think I look particularly GOOD in hats.... and I've tried many shapes and styles before settling on my signature stingy brimmed pork pies (with the occasional c-crown thrown in for good measure).   I adore vintage fashion, but being a larger guy, can't always pull off a modern-meets vintage look without looking like a train wreck (if I can find vintage pieces in my size at all) - and if I dress ALL retro I end up looking like Oliver Hardy (Google him).  But the fedora is something I can wear with anything from jeans and t-shirt to a suit and tie - a nod to the past that holds up well in the present.  There are very few times I pass a mirror (I am not one to linger in front of them for long...) and think "damn I look good" -- but every now and then if the perspective is just right and the hat is tilted just so - I smile and head out to face the world with a little more spring in my step.

Oh the odd conversations that have happened - the man who starting talking to me (rather excitedly!) at a red light because his 5 year old nephew wears hats just like mine - random compliments from people on the street or in the grocery stores which catch me completely off guard (though the compliment is indeed appreciated!) - the sales lady who wanted to know where I got my hat because she thinks they're sexy and wants her boyfriend to get one - the random stories strangers start telling about people in their lives who also wear fedoras - people asking me if I'm a fan of AMC's Breaking Bad (damn you, Walter White!) or those who inevitably ask if I like jazz (I do not like jazz).   I'll even smile at the regulars at the bar whose names I have managed to commit to memory, but who find "Michael" too difficult to remember and refer to me simply as: "the hat guy".

Beyond the warm fuzzy feeling I get from wearing them and the conversations they have started (both fun and awkward) - they taught me a valuable lesson about personality, personal style and individuality: if you love something, forget about what other people may or may not think about you - DO IT - BE IT - OWN IT and --- ok, I have to say it... WORK IT! :-P  With the right level of confidence, you can pull off almost anything.

*tips hat*