And now, for something completely... trivial
0 comment Sunday, November 16, 2014 |
I think we're all rather fed up, and weary of the dismal political prospects in our country, so for once I am going to blog about something rather more trivial -- or is it trivial? The subject is the role of hats in our society.
I tend to agree with that philosopher -- was it Confucius? -- who believed that every little detail of life had some significance, and that the small details and niceties and ceremonies were building blocks of civilization. I am one of those rare people who believes that clothes, in a sense, do make the man or the woman. By that I don't mean that the expensively-dressed people, or the fashion plates, are superior to the rest; far from it. But I think that not only does the way we dress and present ourselves reflect our total worldview and our attitude, but it also helps shape it.
I think most of us would agree that there is a different feeling associated with wearing our best, our Sunday finery, as opposed to wearing our sloppy, lounging-around clothes. But does the phrase 'Sunday finery' even have a meaning nowadays, when most people who attend church wear the same clothes they wear for a casual occasion or recreation? In most churches I've attended in recent years, I've seen more jeans and athletic shoes than dressy clothes, and I've seen a lot of rather revealing clothes on many women, especially the younger ones. When the subject is discussed, I'm always the lone voice speaking for dressing up; most people nowadays are very insistent that God wants them to be comfortable above all else, and that they have a God-given, Constitutional right to wear jeans and sneakers to church. Anything else is decried as being superficial or snobbish.
Again, I appeal to tradition here: generations of our ancestors believed in wearing their best on Sundays, and that did not mean being a fashion plate, nor did it mean competing to be the most stylish or the most expensively dressed. Past generations may not have had expensive clothing, and my Puritan ancestors believed in dressing rather simply and conservatively. Those who had little money and few items of clothing still wore the best they had for worship, and the clothes, no matter that they might be cheaply made or well-worn, were clean and pressed; it was a matter of showing respect.
But now it seems it's all about ourselves and what we want or what we feel most ''comfortable'' in.
People these days seem not to favor dressing up for fancy secular occasions, like going to the ballet or the opera or a concert. I remember when I was a child, we dressed up to go to the movies. My parents both loved movies and we went as a family, and dressing up was de rigueur for evening movies. Similarly for travel; you wore your good clothes to take a plane trip, or even a train trip. Nowadays, wherever you go, the Uniform is everywhere: jeans and athletic shoes. Male or female, the look is much the same. I remember being bemused and somewhat appalled about 15 or so years ago when John Kennedy Jr. was photographed by paparazzi with his then-girlfriend, and both he and the girlfriend were dressed identically, with jeans, sneakers, and identical bomber jackets and baseball caps. Unisex. I thought they both looked very proletarian and sloppy, these 'beautiful people.' What's the use of being rich and beautiful and young if you dress in frumpy, nondescript, shapeless, genderless clothes?
One of the items of clothing that was once standard though now rarely worn is the hat. This is true of men particularly; when I was a child hats were almost universally worn by men. And there was an etiquette involved in hat-wearing; the hat had to be doffed in certain settings (in the presence of ladies, and in church, for example). Men would tip the hat as a greeting. I remember in a building where I worked about 20 years ago, there were still a number of older men who visited there, who still wore their hats, and they unfailingly removed their hats as a chivalrous gesture when I entered the elevator. I found that rather gallant and touching, realizing that these men were a vanishing breed in our society.
Here is a rather fun article about 'Bringing Back the Hat'.
''Up until the 1950�s men were rarely seen out and about without a hat sitting upon their head. Since that time, the wearing of hats has seen a precipitous decline. No one is precisely sure why. Some say the downfall of hats occurred when JFK did not wear a hat to his inauguration, thus forever branding them as uncool. This is an urban myth, however, as Kennedy did indeed don a hat that day. Another theory posits that the shrinking size of cars made wearing a hat while driving prohibitively difficult. Most likely, the demise of hats can simply be traced to changing styles and the ongoing trend towards a more casual look.''
Yes, I think that the changing hairstyles and the overall trend towards a more proletarian, egalitarian, anti-style look explains the disappearance of hats. JFK's hatlessness might also be explained by his own hairstyle; he had a very thick, bushy head of hair that was probably not suited to wearing a hat. Later on in the 60s as young men began to adopt the Beatles hairstyle, and long, unkempt hair became the fashion among younger men, hats just didn't suit the look. Later on when some long-haired young men began to affect hats from earlier eras, for example, young hippie men wearing high silk hats with their ragtag, motley attire, the effect was clownish; similarly with long-haired young men wearing a fedora. It just looked absurd. But hair was all-important in the 60s and onward; long hair was a badge; it showed whether one was one of the 'enemy' or whether one was part of the Movement.
Women, too, abandoned hats around the same time, for similar reasons; the bouffant hairstyle, which was teased and sprayed into shape, was not well-adapted to hats. So the hats had to go; no big-haired woman wanted her hair to be flattened by a hat.
As the years went by, the counterculture look seemed to prevail, and people tended to associate the pre-counterculture fashions as being stodgy and ridiculous. Hats were square and passe.
''Yet hats are due for a full resurgence. Hats are both functional and stylish. They can cover a bad hair day, keep your head warm, and shade your eyes from the sun. They can also be worn to cover a receding hairline, which interestingly enough is why Frank Sinatra, an iconic hat wearer, start wearing one in the first place. They give you touch of class and sophistication, impart personality, and add an interesting and unique accent to your outfits. And hats are a sure-fire way to boost your confidence. A cool hat can quickly become your signature piece and give you extra swagger.
Of course men today still wear hats, but they are most often confined to ratty baseball caps, hippie beanie caps, or the thankfully almost extinct trucker hat.''
Personally I would like to see the last of those ubiquitous baseball caps, except on actual baseball players of course. They are fine in the appropriate context.
The comment thread contains a link to this piece by Theodore Dalrymple, called Use Your Head.
''Theodore Dalrymple believes that wearing proper hats � not hoods or woollen beanies � could encourage self-respect and civility in the young
Why do men behave so badly nowadays? I know that the question has been asked for more than 2,500 years, but it just so happens that, this time, it is entirely apposite. Any doctor who has worked in the NHS will tell you so.
The explanation came to me a few months ago in a blinding flash of illumination: the hat. To the hat, or rather to the lack of one, is to be traced the source of all our ill-deportment. Bare heads, or heads accoutred in the wrong kind of headgear, cause our want of self-respect, and therefore our want of respect for others. What we need, therefore, is more hats: proper ones, from cloth caps to trilbies, homburgs, bowlers and toppers.
Reflecting on hats, it suddenly occurred to me how much more difficult it was to behave badly in a proper hat, and how much easier to be polite in one. I recalled the days of my childhood during which most men wore a hat, and I remembered that my father, who was not always the most considerate of men, never failed, in a gesture of genuine politeness, to raise his hat to someone whom he knew. Indeed, the etiquette of hats was drummed into me as a child as being a stage in the taming of the natural savage.''
It's an interesting piece; I recommend reading it. Dalrymple asserts, perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that we might encourage hat-wearing as a means of increasing public civility. But I think he is somewhat serious, too, and I do think that what we wear and how we behave are not unrelated.
I think that dressing appropriately shows a proper respect for convention and tradition; dressing for ''comfort'' or to make some rebellious or defiant statement is appropriate to a more adolescent society, which we have become in recent decades. One of the distinctions between the America of my childhood and today's America is that it seemed in the past that grown-ups were in charge; there were rules, there were standards, there were traditions and conventions on which there was a solid consensus. In today's America, it seems as if we've entered Neverland, as in James Barrie's Peter Pan, where there are no grown-ups, and each child creates his own personal Neverland.
I knew someone who said he liked old movies. When I asked him what kind of old movies he liked, he said, ''anything where they wear hats and drive black cars.'' I don't know the significance of black cars here, but the wearing of hats seems to be an indicator of the days when America was still sane and our society was still civilized and decorous.

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