Here's a dilemma that's plagued men ever since the fedora went out of general fashion.
To wear a hat? Or not? Newspaper columnist Russell Smith recently weighed in, noting: "Guys who have even the slightest fear of appearing clownish should avoid fashion hats altogether."
It's true. If you're a girl or a woman, wearing a hat is no problem. But if you're a guy, it's treacherous territory. Unless it's a baseball cap.
That's because, when it comes to fashion, most men are deathly afraid of looking stupid or effeminate. Or a combination of the two.
This, for me, is best typified in an episode of Seinfeld. Jerry lets Elaine convince him to buy a "European carry-all," which looks just like a purse. He's also persuaded to put on a fur coat. Kramer then teases him, saying: "Look at Jerry here, prancing around in his coat with a purse. Yup, he's a dandy! A real fancy boy!" Fancy boy, of course, is code for sissy.
I own one hat. It's a porkpie. Sometimes I wear it when my band plays a show. It's a costume, like. In normal life, I could never pull off this hat. For fear of, you know, appearing clownish.
"Look at the knob in the porkpie hat," people would say (including some guys from high school that I haven't seen since the late '70s). "What is he, some kind of ... knob?"
Even as a band costume accessory, I'm conflicted on the hat issue. Surely, if you're presenting a performance, you must try to create visual interest. On the other hand, it's possible people are thinking: "Hey, look at the poseur in the porkpie hat pretending to be Thelonius Monk."
As you can see, it's a ter-ible problem.
Too bad we don't live in the time of Louis XIV. Back then, men wore powdered wigs, frilled shirts and cravats made from the finest lace. And high heels. Believe me, if you walked downtown in this get-up, no one would laugh or pummel you. No, they would say, "Hey, I really admire the quality of your lace, is it Venetian?" or "Those high heels really set off your ankles, which - may I say - are unusually attractive."
Only they'd say it in French.
Unless it's Halloween, men have little opportunity to wear clothing that is colourful or unusual. And even when we do, often the pleasure gets sucked out of it somehow.
I used to enjoy wearing Hawaiian shirts, because they're colourful and fun. This kind of shirt represented a rare chance to wear colourful garb. We'd be getting dressed for some evening event, and I'd put on a Hawaiian shirt; perhaps the bright green one with the dancing girls who (due to the graphic artist's rudimentary skills) look a bit like monkeys. And my wife would say, "Are you actually going to wear that?" And I'd say, "You bet, because it's colourful and fun, therefore affording not only me immense pleasure, but others as well."
But then one day, someone said to me, "Hey, ever notice the people who wear Hawaiian shirts are mostly middle-aged guys trying to look cool? But instead, they look like dorky Jimmy Buffett fans."
And after that, I never wore a Hawaiian shirt again, fearful of the socially debilitating Margaritaville association.
Before that, it was ties. Ties also offer a rare opportunity for men to sport colourful clothing in a socially acceptable manner. The ones I liked were from the 1940s, when gaudy ties were all the rage. My favourite '40s tie was a Cutter Cravat with an art deco design of a cigarette with smoke curling up. When I wore it, I felt like Humphrey Bogart.
But then someone said, "Hey, how come your tie's so short?" And it was true. In fact, all my 1940s ties were short. I think it's because back in the day, the guys wore super high-waisted trousers, just like your Uncle Ernie used to wear. So the ties had to be short. Anyway, that was it for me and my tiny '40s ties.
Getting back to men's hats - I think, as Sam Cooke once sang, a change is gonna come. You see, I've noticed guys are now starting to wear these furry hats with side flaps. They look so spectacularly stupid, they will surely act as fashion dam-busters. For if these fur hats are indeed socially acceptable, then it paves the way for any sort of flamboyant headware.
Heck, I might even get a bowler hat.
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