A Chapeau to Go

The two most perplexing decisions I have to make every day are how much facial hair to keep and which hat to wear. Since these are fundamental decisions that touch the core of one’s being, I do not make them lightly, as you might imagine. They are infinitely complex, so I will take them one at a time, starting with this post on hats, facial hair being so close to the soul that it can be treated only afterward.

Today, men wear all kinds of hats, from baseball caps and beanies to wool caps and fedoras. I have all of these, although I wear baseball caps only to lie on the beach, clean the church basement, or play softball. And never backwards. I have an assortment that includes a Montreal Expos cap (now the Washington Nationals), a New York Yankees cap with the “Y” made to look like a martini glass (a gift from a student), and a specially-designed cap from a university trip to Istanbul in 2011.

I wear beanies to bed and in the snow, which actually makes sense, because I sleep with the window open. Sometimes I wear two, one over the other. If one has a pompom, it goes on last. My pompom beanie is from Yahoo!, which I’m hoping will be a collector’s item. Thank you, Marissa Mayer.

I have caps, too. Some are made of heavy wool for winter; others are lighter for summer. Caps are useful, because they look good and can be rolled up and stored in a travel bag or your pocket. That works for me, since I don’t wear baseball caps or beanies when traveling, but I need something. Airports are warm but airplanes are cold.

Here’s a lifestyle secret that may not be a secret to some readers: for men, age is an important factor in deciding which hat to wear. In fact, it is the factor. Years ago, I did not wear hats at all. The mass of hair on my head would not allow it, at least not without a haircut every four weeks. And I certainly wasn’t about to do that. I grew my hair practically down to my shoulders, glorying in curly locks. I looked like Louis XIV. My hair covered my head so well that I did not need a hat.

With the loss of hair over the years, I sought solace in artificial covering. I started wearing fedoras and now have a black, beaver fedora from Batsakes Hat Shop in Cincinnati and a brown one I bought in San José, California. They’re for winter. I also have a black, pork pie hat and a blue, Bailey of Hollywood trilby for summer. I bought the trilby in Las Vegas. Where else?

Here’s the thing: I have decided to dress my age even if I don’t act it. I realize a lot of guys my age are still trying to live out their rock n’ roll fantasy, but I was never interested in that. My fantasy now is to do whatever I want while being left alone, which makes me a teenager more than anything else. The phenomenon of second childhood is well know, but second adolescence?

The real test of character is the fedora. Frank Sinatra once said that if you walk down the street and nobody laughs, then it works. Wearing a fedora requires two things, both difficult to achieve but not impossible: (1) belief in yourself and (2) acknowledgement of objective truth.

You’ve got to believe in yourself and have enough confidence to wear the fedora even if you feel marooned. It’s a declaration of independence and style. Secondly, when it doesn’t work, either because you look pretentious or ridiculous (think of Ed Norton from The Honeymooners), admit defeat, leave the hat at home, and move on. As W.C. Fields used to say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”

Before I walk out the door for the day, I put the fedora on and take it off about four or five times. The question is, do I look better with it or without it? If it’s raining, I wear it regardless. Umbrellas are for wimps, mon ami.

You want a piece of me? Go to Robert Brancatelli. Top photo by Juhasz Imre; trumpet by Aarón Blanco Tejedor; bottom by Samad Ismayilov. Note to self: never compel your “lips to utter enthusiasms” needlessly (E.M. Forster).

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