My history with hats

I love hats.

I love the way they look and I love the way they feel. I’ve been told I look good in hats. I think everyone looks good in hats if it’s the right hat.

A hat performs many functions. In wintertime it conserves heat – most of the heat in one’s body is emitted from the top of one’s head or the soles of one’s feet, which is why the furry Ushanka, and Cossack hats are popular in frigid Russia. They can be protective (helmets) or stylish (berets, ascots and pillboxes). In the summer heat it keeps the sun off, which is why the brim of the sombrero is so wide in scorching Mexico.

The Sombrero

I have a long history with hats and the earliest I remember was a sombrero that I got at the Royal Easter Show; an annual livestock fair in Sydney that has become increasingly commercialized to the point of ludicrousness (last I observed and heard). The stereotypical image of the lazy Mexican crouched under a sombrero is both misleading and apropos. The siesta is not laziness but a necessity in the hot midday desert sun. Take it from me, Mexicans are far from lazy, and their hat is very functional.

Or, ornamental as mine was and as you’ll see in most Mexican restaurants. This is another purpose of the hat. A well-stocked and organized hat stand is both functional and decorative and a must for any hat aficionado. I possibly wore a baby beanie (I’ll have to check on that – a hat for both warmth and protection). There’s also a picture of me, circa 1971 in a knitted deerstalker but I have no memory of this. The first hat I remember owning was the sombrero. I have no idea what happened to it.

The Baseball Cap

I’ve only ever owned one of these and I will probably never own another one as, here, my love of hats clashes with my detestation of fashions that are excessively popular. I always remember Jughead Jones’s fashion ethic to beat the fads: nothing he wears ever goes out of style because it’s never been in style. Not a precise parallel to my own, but close.

In the spring of 1981, when I was in 8th grade, my mother disappeared for six weeks to tour the US east coast with a friend. One of the things she brought back was a brown, felt baseball cap. I don’t think I ever wore that hat and its fate, like the sombrero, is unknown (probably disposed of, donated or lost in one of my many moves). I’ve never owned a baseball cap since. When I was teaching in Cobar I noticed that the uniformed students expressed their stifled fashion personalities through their hats, emblazoned with different logos.

But they all had one thing in common. They were all baseball caps. Go to any street fair (here in the US, at least) and everyone’s wearing a hat – a baseball cap. Besides not providing adequate sun protection (ears get burnt), in my opinion they lack panache unless you’re playing baseball. They’re the Volkswagens of the hat world (albeit not nearly as stylish). Ok. That’s not entirely true. I had a white baseball cap once in high school. Unattended, it was stolen.

The Blue Beanie

It was a modified version of the one worn by Mike Nesmith in The Monkees. This cozy head garment isn’t hard to find. They’re also easy to make if you own a pair of knitting needles. Beanies first became popular in the US and are a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution; not only do they keep one’s head warm, but they also keep one’s hair out of one’s eyes (yet another function of hats – having long hair as a result of the pandemic, I find myself wearing hats for this purpose) without a brim to get in the way.

I liked Mike Nesmith’s general look, so I got a beanie. It wasn’t exactly the same; it didn’t have the white decal and Nesmith’s was actually green instead of blue. I also didn’t like the pom-pom on the top, so I took to mine with a, snip-snip, pair of scissors. Knitted hats are probably most vulnerable to decay. It eventually fell apart and I never bothered to replace it.

The First Beret

Perhaps the oldest (and simplest) hat design, the beret is characteristic of the military (think Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery or Che Guevara) and is also fashion statement (Prince sang about a girl wearing a raspberry beret; the kind you find in a second-hand store). Tom Cruise ordered a cadet to “take off that beret” in the 1981 movie Taps, when the cadet decided to abandon the cause. It wasn’t just a hat; it was a symbol of membership.

Technically, I never owned the beret; it was the property of the Royal Australian Army, but it was in my care for a couple of months while I was a member of the Army Cadets (before I shaped my opinions on the fascist nature of the military, in general). Whenever I see a beret I’m reminded of that hat.

The Cossack Hat

This hat wasn’t mine, either and I feel bad about its fate. As I mentioned in the forward, Cossack hats hail from Russia where it’s very cold and the people would die were it not for vodka and furry hats. This particular one belonged to my father and I borrowed it to lend to a friend for a costume party (which, ironically, we never actually attended). And then it kind of disappeared; a frequent fate of hats for the careless hat owner, I’ve found. I really should replace that hat.

The First Fedora

It was sitting, lonely on a park bench on Martin Place and I sat down next to it. I looked around for a potential owner but there was no one within claiming distance showing any interest. I picked it up. It was clean. It was in sufficiently good condition and it fit perfectly. My love of hats had begun.

It was a green felt fedora, a wide dark green band with a narrow brim and a rolled edge. I wore that hat for a year or so and then, somehow my head grew (it tends to happen to teenagers). I passed it on to my good buddy. I wonder if he still has it.

The First Panama

Driving down Falcon Street, eastbound by St Leonard’s Park I spotted it underneath a parked car. I made a sudden decision; I was going to go after it. I quickly swung around the block and was amazed to find, after what seemed like a lengthy journey, that it was still there! I considered that it might have belonged to the owner of the car it was under. Or it could have found its way there from anywhere in that gusty part of town (ergo, my surprise that it lasted my trip around the block), finally settling for me to find.

At any rate I had found it and it had found me. I wore that hat throughout the late ‘80s. It was a panama – a straw fedora style that has its origins, oddly enough, in Ecuador. Its name comes from its popularity in Panama and, like its Mexican cousin, is designed for comfort in the hot, equatorial jungle. Being made from straw and with a wide brim, it provides sun protection and ventilation.

In the end it was a travelling hat, destined always to find a new owner. There’s a picture floating around somewhere of me in that hat, in the same house where I lost it and where I learnt the lesson never to let anyone wear your hat at a party, no matter how cute they are.

The Second Fedora

It was actually called The Legend – in memory of Hamish Wallace. The guy in the hat store was a kid but he knew everything there was to know about hats and had found his calling (“Do you have a fez?” I asked. He pointed straight at them). It was a friend of his, an aviator who died in a plane crash. “I could have written a eulogy” he said, “but I decided to make a more lasting dedication and design a hat in his name.” At least that’s the story he told me and what the lining said the hat was called.

And a very cool hat it was, too. A high-topped grey fedora with a wide, dark-green band and a wide brim. There was no rolled edge (the best hats don’t have them, he told me) and it was my primary hat for most of the ‘90s, 2000s and early 2010s.

Hats don’t die, they move on if you don’t take good care of them and one drunken night, after boasting its origins, I lost it on a bus. It wasn’t at the lost and found so I can only assume that somewhere in Denver there’s a homeless guy in a very unique and fashionable Akubra hat.

The Felt Boater

When I first arrived in the US, it was near Halloween and I was invited, as the foreign novelty, to a Halloween party. My new bride and I decided that it would be funny if I dressed as Crocodile Dundee (or a passable equivalent). We couldn’t find an Akubra “Croc Hat” (the one he wears with the crocodile tooth band – seriously, it’s called that – Google it) but the guy at the local army surplus did boast a black felt boater with a wide brim and a brown safari band that was passable. This particular style of hat is traditionally made from straw and has its origins with the gondoliers of Venice (thus the name).

I still have it. In fact, I’m wearing it right now. The band died (decayed) and I started to bead a new one but decided that a) I didn’t like the design I’d started and b) didn’t want to wait until I got around to designing and starting a new one, so I ordered one – black leather with a silver buckle. After I lost the Akubra this became my hat of choice and also once served as a fill-in while I waited for the Akubra to be shipped from Sydney.

The Cowboy Hat

I still have this one, too. There are certain items in one’s wardrobe that one accumulates because one forgets to pack certain items and purchases them at the destination. Such items generally include underwear, socks, swimsuits and hats.

In the Rocky Mountains, at 10,000 feet, there’s less atmosphere to protect a person from the sun. A hat is a particular necessity if walking around a mountain town as we were doing and, gosh darn it, I forgot my hat. There was nothing for it but to buy a new one and, in the mountain town of Leadville, the only type of hat you’re going to find (other than a baseball cap) is a cowboy hat. Thus, a brown one was added to my hat collection.

The Third Fedora

Goorin Brothers in Larimer Square (they also have a store in Boulder) have been making hats since 1895 and, not only did they sell me my third fedora, but they also customized it for me. When I looked to replace my lost Akubra (an impossible feat, like trying to replace a lost child) I went to the top hatter in the Denver area. There I found a very nice black fedora – its peak wasn’t as high as The Legend, but it had definite style. The brim was a little narrow, but when I noticed the rolled edge and mentioned what the hatter in Sydney said, he confirmed it and volunteered to unstitch the edge and steam it at no extra cost. Half an hour later it was ready. The unrolled brim was as wide as the legend.

Radios disappear in unlocked cars. So do hats so I lost that one to a dapper hoodlum, but I was so impressed by the service at Goorin Brothers that I took my son there to get him a hat to complete his jazz persona (as well as mentioned them here).

The Fourth Fedora

And now it was on – the quest to replace The Legend, unquestionably the best hat I’ve ever owned. Where better to find it than Australia? Well, apparently it doesn’t anymore. I looked for one when I was in Sydney a few years ago but could find it. Instead, I settled on a crushable blue fedora that I found in a hat store in The Rocks district of Sydney. It had a rolled edge so I asked the girl if she could give it the same treatment that the Goorin Brothers did; she barely spoke English but sharply told me that they couldn’t change any of the hats. I wonder if the Goorin boys would do it if I bought another one of their hats – maybe a pork pie? Or maybe as a thank-you for advertising them here.

The Second Panama

It’s in the mail. Summer’s coming and felt hats get too hot.

The Second Beret

I can’t quite tell if the hats worn by Doug Heffernan (Kevin James) in The King of Queens and Elliot DiMauro (Enrico Colantoni) in Just Shoot Me! are berets or ascots turned backwards and, you know what? I don’t really care. I think the look is cool so I’m going to try both. The second beret is on its way.

The Fifth Fedora

I hunt this as my great white whale of headwear. Even The Legend wasn’t quite right. The ideal is the trilby worn by Robert Redford in The Sting – a wide brimmed fedora with a high-peaked crown and wide band. If you know where I can find one, please let me know.