Hominy & Hash
HATS, ON AND OFF
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- "I had a hat when I came in, I put it on the rack, and I'll have a hat when I go out or I'll break somebody's back." That little ditty was popular when hand clapping and the clicking of heels dancing a jig across wooden barroom floors was the only accompaniment and, by golly, it spoke the truth. Drunk or sober, gentlemen removed their hats indoors and put them where they knew they would stay until they left.
And, if clothes made the man, the hat topped off the image. It wasn't always the style of hat that mattered, it was how a man wore it. If he wore a hat squarely on his head, he meant business; if he pulled the brim down over one eyebrow, he was acting mysterious, surly; and, if the brim were up front and back, he was wearing a "porkpie" and usually had a wide-eyed innocence about him.
Some men wore their hats at a jaunty angle and wore a smile to firm up the impression. Hats made a statement then, hats send a message now.
Anytime I see someone wearing a New York Yankee's Baseball cap, I always ask where they're from, perhaps we'll find it's a small world after all and we actually knew friends of friends. Some were simply New York Yankee fans (and why not?) but from Walla Walla, Washington.
That is not the case since September 11, 2001; we all became New Yorkers and joined in a solidarity of grief and mourning. We bought NYPD and FDNY hats, proceeds usually going to victims' families - but, if not, we were showing our colors to be the same as New Yorker's colors. Now, isn't that a turnabout? Everyone rushed to help New York where they once had hated New Yorkers? It was a wholesome, refreshing, and very welcome outpouring of love. Wave a flag and tip your hat - but first you have to buy a hat.
Hats are big business, very big business. On a visit to President Calvin Coolidge's Vermont birthplace, farm and summer White House, we had lunch in what had once been a huge factory. The top floor was made up of individual rooms where the female workers would live dormitory style. There was no hint of what it had manufactured and our imagination took us no further than "belts, that's what they made, must be belts, what with all the farm animals around."
Wrong. They made hats. This was the largest manufacturer of straw hats in the country. They made the Straw Katie, the hat worn by everyone then and only Barbershop Quartet Singers today as they harmonize and preserve the look and sound of an era worth remembering. Styles changed and the factory went out of business.
Winter or Summer, no one went hatless! It may have started before President Kennedy took office but not by much. It was such a frigid Inauguration Day that comments on his being hatless preceded all the newscasts. Then, hats were gone, no longer a part of the clothes that make the man.
I've heard it said that the gentlemen-must-remove-their-hats-indoors rule does not apply to Texans, at least not Texans sporting a 10-gallon hat. That's part of his makeup, his costume, his persona. Recently, a new breed of gentlemen has emerged and holding that keep-your-hat-on rule is fine with them. They wear baseball caps!
The messages flourish. The cap will say: U.S. OPEN 2002. I immediately wonder if he were at Beth Page the same time John was there. Caps from vacation spots, universities, restaurants, bars, teams from Little League to World Series winners, every sport, golf courses, country clubs, on and on. They all silently give an impression.
The haberdashers of the world took notice. Now, under the Tommy Hilfiger name or Ralph Lauren or Nike or Abercrombie, hats tell us where you shop. The price is usually affordable and makes a fashion statement for less money than new T-shirts or jeans for the back-to-school crowd.
These caps are one size fits all - adjustable. It didn't take long to realize pony tails could be poked through the back opening and swish jauntily as either man or woman goes about business.
There's an expression: "never throw anything away, they'll come back in style." Well, here we go again. The popularity of movies made in or about the 40s and 50s show every man wearing a hat and making his statement. Documentaries showing Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio hitting a home run will pan the crowds where no man is hatless, and the baseball caps are worn by the athletes.
I know John will never go back to wearing a fedora - or button down collars and gray flannel suits for that matter. But, it's nice to see this up-and-coming generation desiring to emulate the fashions of the times that were part of our lives during those character-building years when we dressed up, not down, to make our impressions.