Haberdashery

OK, this is a bit of a fashion post, so feel free to skip it if you don’t have a great deal of interest in hats.

I am a person of pallor. A quick look at me tells the world that a sizable chunk of my DNA comes from far northern Europe, most likely Hibernia or north of Hadrian’s Wall. My ancestors lived in cool, cloudy, damp climes where the ability to soak up every last bit of vitamin D could make a critical difference in their health. As a result, my coloration is politely described as “fair.” Or, as a friend says, “Damn, you’re pale!”

Because of this, and living at a relatively high elevation in a sun-drenched climate, I have become somewhat of an expert on hats. It’s easy to find long-sleeve shirts and long skirts and trousers, but good hats are a bit more of a challenge. And before anyone asks, I tried sunbonnets. You have zero peripheral vision, and if you think people look at you funny in a hat, wear a sunbonnet with a business suit. Yeah. Calico and pinstripes clash terribly.

I tend to favor felt hats for work and for fall, winter, and spring, and canvas for casual and in summer. My absolute favorite felt is a good Akubra, either a Drover or Snowy River crease, with a stampede string or leather chinstrap. No, these are not inexpensive. Last I looked, they were up to $150 per hat. When you work that out to, oh, 250 wearings per year for five to ten years (depending on usage), it’s not quite so painful. Akubras flatter my face, last if you take care of them, and don’t smell like a wet sheep when they get wet. I have a Stetson as well, and it’s not bad, but I prefer the lower crown and different crease on Akubra hats. My winter cold-weather hat is a thinner felt (crushable) with earflaps and a chin-strap. Or a Tilley pork-pie in a dark tweed with ear-flaps, for dress. Or a mad-bomber type hat in rabbit with ear-flaps, if cold is more of a worry than sunlight.

In summer, when I’m not dressed up, I tend to favor Tilley or Tilley-style hats. Canvas is cooler than wool felt, and if I sweat-stain a cheap canvas hat, I can either rinse it out or toss it at the end of the season. And they can be rolled up, sat upon, packed, and otherwise flattened without suffering too much, unlike straw hats. I recommend at least a two-inch brim, preferable three. Five inch brims tend to get in the way, and I’m not certain the greater shade balances the inconvenience. And a five-inch brim on a canvas hat tends to scream “I’m wearing a sunhat!” On the other hand, if you don’t like making eye-contact, a slightly droopy five-inch brim may be exactly what you want.

And then there’s my Victorian and Edwardian confections, with the wide brims, netting, lace, fake flowers, feathers, ribbons, and other trim. I don’t recommend them, unless you have a certain attitude and live in an area of light winds.

Your hat, if you choose to wear one, should fit well. Loose hats get in your eyes, flop around, and tend to blow away. Tight hats stretch out of shape, are uncomfortable, and make your hair look even worse. A good hat should, if not flatter your face, at least not make you look silly. I lean to browns and dark greys. White or very pale tan hats are both expensive and prone to collect every bit of dirt in the county. Black seems to trap heat and show dirt and dust, plus you may be mistaken for a country music person. This may or may not be desirable. Note that I’m referring to nicer hats. What you wear in the yard or on the hiking trail is whatever you happen to like, but they should still fit.

Hat manners vary from place to place. If I am wearing a man’s hat, which is most of the time, I take it off when I go indoors, unless indoors is a hangar, rodeo arena, or the like. Some people argue that cowboys can wear their hats indoors, and for a dress hat that is part of an outfit, I’m inclined to agree, but otherwise, off it comes. I tend to remove my hat for the National Anthem and Pledge, and for invocations, unless I am wearing a woman’s hat. This is in part because of logistics, because I often pin my Edwardian hat to my hair.

Storing your hats isn’t a big deal. People say to keep them on their crown so the luck doesn’t run out. I tend to put mine brim down, unless I’m using it to hold stuff for the moment. Some people use hat boxes and cases for their really good hats. I stack mine loosely, and dust them when needed. Don’t wear a cheap plastic baggie over a hat in the wet, or store one when it is still wet. And do not, under any circumstances, dry a soaking wet wool hat on a heater or radiator. First, it ruins the felt. Second, if it’s a cheap hat, the place will smell like wet sheep for days. Trust me. Two years later, I still had people from that dorm walking past and saying “baaa” under their breath.

Advertisements