Hats off

I found my first proper hat when I was “working” in Northam Books in Southampton. It was a gloomy old second-hand place which averaged around three or four customers per day. The pay was £10 per day, less than you’d get signing on, and the job was only really worth doing for the odd curios you could find in a pile in the attic. One day I came across a hat, quite similar to the one my granddad used to wear – an old-style stitched fedora with a fabric lining. I tried it on, showed it to a few people and it quickly became part of my everyday clothing. It covered my rapidly thinning bald patch from the sun, rain and wind – and from public view, of course – and nobody else seemed to be wearing one at the time. Not a real hat at least.

Most of the following decade has been spent in the Czech republic and in China. Almost everything about my life has changed, but there’s still a hat hanging up on the peg by the door. It’s just become one of those things that I do. Meanwhile, in the UK, the fedora has gone from being an unusual item of clothing to something you can find in every clothes shop, and walking around the streets on my odd visits I see them being worn by teenagers, at ‘jaunty’ angles, paired with hoodies and novelty t-shirts. This, in and of itself, makes me feel like losing the hat – ignoring fashion is good, being at the arse-end of it is not so good – but it wasn’t really until today that I realised how dire the situation has become. From Boingboing:

The fedora draws increasing controversy in internet circles. In just one hour I found no less than three Tumblrs related to shaming people who wear the creased, curve-brimmed hat—formal with a touch of classic dandy—and the censure is interestingly specific.

The targets are usually men. Nerdy men.

The stereotype I’d been expecting was more along the lines of social network poseur. You know the kind of thing – self-taken photos from supposedly flattering angles, ridiculous pouts, those ‘jaunty’ angled hats. The internet is awash with tumblrs making fun of these kind of people, and while I’ve never really got the appeal it all seems like the usual background-noise hipster-hate people seem to churn out.

But this seems to be quite a different kind of hate-blogging. The photos are taken from dating profiles, the wearers generally less fashion-conscious, more geeky men.

It’s such specific nerd-bullying that one starts to wonder: Is there some kind of correlation between earnest, romantic-if-awkward geeks and a blind faith in the appeal of classical hats?

The author then veers off into pretty tangential territory, equating fedora-wearing with the “nice guy” complex – in short, the delusion that women like men who act like pricks, and by being the ‘nice guy’ they “feel entitled to appreciation and attention because they’ve met a basic standard of human decency” (more detail to be found here, here and here.) This is a decent enough topic on its own, and no time to really cover it here, but again in short (1) yes, of course it’s crap (2) but lots of us have been there at some point because, well, figuring out how to do dating / relationships when you’re young and shy isn’t easy so (3) it would be nice (and of positive benefit to everyone) to help guys figure it out rather than humiliating them and making the problem worse.

Anyway, to get back to the hats…

The problem is that the fedora has become a go-to accessory for a peculiar subculture of love-entitled male nerds whose social inexperience and awkwardness manifests in a world rocked by a gender revolution—a tectonic shift in the makeup of formerly cloistered, rule-bound clubs. They aren’t bad people – they simply need a place from which to draw a sense of manhood, if not from women. When deciding how to represent themselves in a dating profile, why wouldn’t they cling to a fashion emblem from a bygone age, a time when guy was just a guy and a doll was just a doll? A fashion which recalls Frank Sinatra and Al Capone, a conventional masculinity marked by elegant detachment and an appeal to women that remains decidedly independent of their approval?

A number of different assumptions are made here, most of them about people I’ve never met on a website I’ll never use* – but the problem for me isn’t that they’re being made, more that they are most likely shared by a fair number of people. I’m not sure if it’s a particularly 2012 thing, or an internet thing, or something which has always been around but I’ve failed to notice, but it seems like right now the done thing is to try and look as ‘normal’ as possible and publicly ridicule anyone who doesn’t. We seem to have lost appreciation for eccentricity – perhaps equating it to affectation and pretension, which may be fair in many cases, but the baby seems to have been thrown out with the bathwater.

It takes more than a cheap trilby to create your own look, and it doesn’t go with jeans and a T-shirt, that should be obvious to anyone these days. Perhaps for some it’s the start of something, though – a first attempt to do something different. I swear there was a time when people would intentionally look strange, even ugly, not in a misguided attempt to attract the opposite sex, but because they enjoyed playing around with how they looked. Have these people gone, or is it just attitudes towards them that have hardened? I really don’t know. But I’ll probably still wear my hat, at least when it’s cold outside. Nobody will be impressed, and I don’t care.

*That the tumblrs use photos from dating websites seems a little cruel. On a personal level users of the websites can choose or reject whoever they like, but when people have taken a risk and exposed their flaws and vulnerabilities it isn’t really cool to ridicule them in public, whatever they look like.

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