Taking a long walk this morning I see a fellow sidewalk denizen. Not the more familiar indigent or student, this is a man of sartorial substance. He evidently shares my notion that walking is the way to go.
He is tall and thin, with a gaunt face and horn rimmed glasses, and walks upright and intently, never looking down or from side to side. This lends him a forbidding manner, rectitude to go with erect carriage and correct to go with his tidy appearance.
I notice him because he seems to have walked out of 1960. He suit is close cut, his tie narrow, and he always always wears a hat.
This morning it was a straw borsolino, what executives wore on summer days back when hats were normal. In the fall and winter it is a felt fedora.
Seeing this man sends me back to my boyhood when dad would walk out of the house each morning in his two button suit, briefcase in hand and reaching for his hat from the shelf of the hall closet. It was the last thing before he opened the door on the way out and the first thing after he came through the door on the way home.
On weekends, when I was very young, I remember playing with one of his older hats, wearing it for effect. How it propped on my ears or slid back over my crown being too large. He had two felt fedoras, a straw hat for summer, a lambswool campaign style hat for winter. They were as routine a part of him as collar stays and sock garters. He was never a braces kind of guy, except when he had to wear a tux of course.
Hats are still common, perhaps even moreso, but limited to the baseball variety. And the etiquette of hats has vanished. Long ago they went on and came off at the door and were never worn indoors. A man tipped his has to a lady, doffed it for a hearse and held it over the heart for the flag. There were few more sure marks of one’s being an adult than what sort of hat one wore and how it was worn. The photo of my folks going of on honeymoon, foot in the doorway of the car, smiling widely, includes his fresh homburg. He looks very grown up though he was not yet 23.
But he was an adult. His suit was his Coast Guard Uniform shorn of brass. The war was but three years over. He has the look of a man who knows who he is, and a hat is what a man wears.
Today, I fear, a hat signifies perpetual boyhood not manhood. And with it the behaviors of a boy, now perpetuated into age. Youth is a good thing in many ways. In a man, a grown man, boyish things are simply embarrassing. I think I need a hat.