When I was a boy, my friends and I were ambiguous about hats. The hats that our mothers insisted that we wear on cold Winter days had very little to do with fashion or style. Rather, they were supposed to keep our heads warm and keep our ears from getting frost-bitten. If you know anyone who has pictures from these days in the '50s and early '60s, you know exactly what I am talking about. As we grew older, we discovered hats with what we thought was style: usually a short brimmed Fedora with a feather. Truth be known, we looked ridiculous, but we thought we were very cool!
I remember the wide brimmed hats that my father and my uncles wore in the '50s. They were always pulled down over the forehead, and usually worn with a dark overcoat, giving them all the look of gangsters out of a Cagney movie. To me, though, they looked funny.
Politicians of the day all wore hats: Ike, Truman... even Lyndon Johnson, although by the time he became President, Fedoras, Homburgs and the like had fallen out of favor, thanks to our young President with the shock of unruly brown hair: John Fitzgerald Kennedy. President Kennedy hated anything on his head, and rarely wore a hat, preferring to go bare-headed. This devastated the mens hat industry for decades.
When I went into the Marine Corps, I was required to wear a hat anytime that I was outdoors. They were not very stylish, and I hated them. Invariably, they gave me a headache because they always seemed to be too tight. The day that I was released from active duty in 1970, I promptly removed my cover (Marine Corps for 'Hat') and walked down the street of my final base, bare-headed at last. Unfortunately for me, a shave tail Lieutenant was driving by. He stopped and ordered me to put my cover back on. I explained that I had just been released, and he told me that I was not released until I was off of the base. I replaced the cover, and he drove off. As soon as he was out of sight, I removed it again. Suddenly, there he was again! The SOB had driven around the block and told me to put it on and leave on, or the only place I would be going would be the brig. I put it on.
After I became a civilian again, I seldom wore a hat... they just didn't look good on me. The style in the '70s and '80s was usually just a ball cap. My head is just too wide for these caps, and I always looked like an escapee from somewhere. Aside from the ball caps, the styles ran to those big caps that looked like the old ice bags that people used to put on their heads for headaches, and the Walt Frazier 'Pimp Hats', which looked sharp, but I never thought that I could pull off.
In the '90s, I would wear those Newsboy type caps, turned backwards, so that they looked kind of like a beret. Still, I always thought back to those wide brimmed hats that my father's generation wore. Oh, I tried other looks: Western hats, which looked silly on a guy who lived in the Northeast and talked in the staccato, clipped way of someone from the NYC area. Woolen ski caps always mad me look either like a potential serial killer, or bank robber. None of these worked for me, and I always felt self-conscious wearing them. I even occasionally wore a ball type cap turned backward, catcher style.
I had decided in the middle of the last decade to shave my head, I needed something to keep my head warm on those frigid days, and to keep the sun off once I had enough. I couldn't, after all, fry the rapidly diminishing brain cells that we old men find so precious.
My wife, Sheryl, had always encouraged me to wear an old style Fedora, or Panama hat. She said that they looked good on me. So when I recently found a hat at, of all places, Cracker Barrel, I decided to give it a try. To my amazement, people started complimenting the hat and how I looked in it. I had to grudgingly admit that I do not look bad in a hat anymore. Maybe it has something to do with being older. Maybe it's because I no longer feel uncomfortable wearing one, or maybe because it makes my wife happy... I don't know. I have given in and gone to a larger size, so I don't get the headaches anymore. Recently, I bought a black felt fedora, with a little bit of a Western look to it, and I am contemplating a lighter color. It seems that, things that seemed not right for us when we were younger, things that we poked fun at and swore we would never wear or do, tend to become comfortable for us as we grow older. It's OK to change your mind.
I wrote this blog with the encouragement of my good friend, Patty Ann Smith Sparano. She saw the picture of me in the hat and said that I was "Very Ernest Hemingway-ish" in the hat. I told her that I wished that I had one tenth his talent. So, she suggested that I write a blog showing how our perceptions and tastes change as we mature, how things that we once thought were not cool, turn in to things that we become comfortable with as we age. Patty, you deserve the credit for the inspiration, and at least half for the concept. Thank you, my friend.
So, I will put on my hat and go forth. Life just gets curiouser as we age!
John Zaffino (With a tip of the hat to Patty Ann Smith Sparano)
Kent Lakes, New York March 15, 2014 ( The Ides Of March!)