August 11th, 2010

Fedora Anxiety

JeffAndHatDehalftoned1992.jpgThis morning's Wall Street Journal persuaded me that I am, for once, way ahead of the curve. The A-head story documents the Millennials' puzzlement over hat etiquette: When should I wear them indoors? They are baffled. They are struggling. Deep within their sensitive souls, they are suffering.

Perhaps I can help: Listen up, people! Outdoors is for hats! Indoors is for heads! Sabe?

Deafening silence. So it goes.

My father wore a felt fedora to work every day, even when he had to change it out for a hard hat when he arrived at a job site to help clueless technicians figure out why an industrial gas main was delivering only half the methane that it was supposed to. A felt fedora was part of the company uniform, and he was unapologetically a company man.

The uniform changed in the first half of the 1960s, and the canonical felt fedora almost became extinct. The newly hip in the Sixties thought that hats smelled too much like the Fifties. Ewwwww, can't have that. (This is the same reason that Unix fanatics in the First Age declared that Capital Letters Are For Engraving In Stone: Capital letters smelled too much like COBOL. Ewwwww, can't have that.) My father reluctantly complied, reluctantly because he had only a little more hair than I do. It turned out all right because he was working in Chicago, where we saw the sun maybe once every three weeks in the winter.

Fast-forward to 1990: Jeff and Carol move to Arizona to launch PC Techniques. Down there it's the other way around: We saw clouds maybe once every three weeks in the winter. And in the summer. (Except for two months' worth of late summer monsoon, when we saw a few every afternoon. A few.) Jeff (who has less hair than his father, and almost none since the late 1980s) gets scorched a time or two, up top where your skin is so thin that you can feel bottom.

Jeff, doing what makes sense, buys a hat. I had one by late summer 1990, but it wasn't until the April/May 1992 issue of the magazine that I appeared along with my hat. (See my editorial photo above.)

Oh, the humanity. Half the readership seemed to think I'd be better off wearing a dead skunk. The other half said nothing. Even the ever-so-always-polite-and-considerate George Ewing (peace be upon him, and is) wrote in a letter-of-comment: "I dunno about the hat."

I stuck with it. Pace Woody Allen, my brain is my first favorite organ, and this was Arizona we were talking about. (Your brain doesn't need drugs down there. No questions.) Over subsequent years I bought a lot more hats, and now a quick count shows eleven, plus a twelfth that I leave in Chicago just in case the sun ever comes out when I'm in town. True, a couple are special-purpose, like my Ben Franklin Kite-Flying Hat, and a formal felt business cowboy hat that I had custom-made by Ronald Reagan's hatmaker in 2000, during which I had my idiosyncratic skull measured by a mechanical hat sizer machine built in 1910.

Wearing a hat was a contrarian act in 1992, so it was a good fit for me. And now in 2010, a fifty-year ice age in the hat industry has come to an end. Having tasted the sweet nectar of hattedness, the Millennials can't bear to take them off for a second, perhaps fearing that another Ice Age is just around the corner. One is. Wearing your hat in the bathroom won't help.

A hat is a roof over your brain. You only need one roof. When you step under one, take off the other. It's that simple.