In Praise of Hats

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by Dan Verner

John Kennedy just about ruined a generation for hats.

He famously did not wear a top hat at his inauguration on a frigid day in January, 1961, and that did in hats as a required fashion accessory in much the same way that Clark Gable finished off the undershirt when he didn’t wear one in It Happened One Night. They didn’t make comeback until World War II when they became a required item of dress. (Required as in “Wear this or don’t wear it in the stockade, kid!)

I was a typical ‘fifties child, wearing knit hats and those dorky leather and fur helmets with the ear flaps like Ralphie sported in A Christmas Story. Of course I wore baseball caps, especially during my brief and decidedly inglorious career in Little League, but I don’t remember what kind of hats I wore until about twenty years ago when I started affecting white Panama hats (from Target, and they’re made of paper although they look like they’re made of palms or reeds or fairies’ eyelashes or whatever real Panama hats are made of) which gave me a sort of Atticus Finch vibe (the Mockingbird Atticus, not the Watchman one). The unfortunate thing about the would-be Panama hat is that it melts in the rain. Ask me how I know. When I reached shelter after being caught in a cloudburst, my “Panama” looked like a copy of Readers Digest had drowned and washed up on my head.

From this modest beginning I branched out to an Indiana Jones hat to go with my Indiana Jones leather coat, my World War II Army Air Force officer’s hat (for book signings), and my cowboy, black, black, straw and brown hats. I also have about twelve baseball caps sporting logos representing things I like: Route 11 Potato Chips, the Town Hardware Store in Black Mountain, North Carolina, a hat that has “Lieutenant Dan” (one of my nicknames) on it, my Manassas Baptist Church Green Team (i.e., HIGHLY non-selective) softball hat, my Williamsburg Cheese Shop hat, a Manassas Baptist Church Staff hat (Becky’s—she said I could wear it if I wanted to), a brown B-29 style cap, a Monty Python hat (silly walk not included), a cap that says “Mr. Vocabulary” on it (from a time when I sat in on Becky’s children’s choir and defined words for them they didn’t know—hey, English majors gotta use it where they can) and caps for the Commemorative Air Force, Guitars 4 Vets (a terrific program in which wounded vets are given a guitar and lessons to help in their recovery. My brother Ron rehabs broken guitars and donates them to the organization.), the Douglasville (GA) Methodist Church Jackleg Angels (a group of volunteers who do repairs on the church or for people who need something done—Ron coordinates this group), and the Carpenter’s Sons and Daughters (a Jackleg Angels clone I put together that only lasted a few months).

Come to think of it, I have a beret for those times when I’m feeling French (which is almost never) and a jester’s hat (insert your own joke here). I’ve gone through three Nationals caps, but they were all stolen so I wear their colors in my heart. Or something like that.

I suppose I should count the house collection of hats we used as props when the Manassas Chorale sang (and I am not making this up) “A Musiciological Journey through the Twelve Days of Christmas.” Twice in the past several years. Each verse of the Christmas carol was done in an historical style, and a couple of singers wore an appropriate hat when that era came around. So, we have monk’s hoods, courtier’s hats, Viking helmets, Enlightenment wigs, bowlers and top hats. (I haven’t listed all the eras and all the hats that went with them because, frankly, I can’t remember it all.)

So, if you’re in need of a hat, we have a few. Sometimes, if I think about it, I feel like Hats “Я” Us. But then I lie down and don’t think about it at all after a while. Still, I recommend wearing a hat. At the very least it makes people wonder what you’ve been up to.


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