MY HAT, MY SELF (January 2002)

by Dana Snyder-Grant


Hats are a statement of person. My father had a handsome collection of hats. In the 1950's, most men wore hats to be the same, but he adopted styles before others did, and by 1960, you could find him on the commuter train to New York City with a stylish hat of English tweed or camel's hair, purchased at Burberrys in London. He wore distinctive hats with narrow brims and even donned sporty caps. He was a motion picture producer and never wanted to be just one man in a crowd; his hats helped reinforce his identity as the man in charge. Although all his clothing was stylish, you saw first what he carried on his head.


I did not inherit my father's taste in fashion, but hats have a similar niche in my life: they signal my identity. For the winter, I have two hats. I wear one when I exit by the back door to my car and go out into the world for work or errands. The other I use to walk in my neighborhood, or when walking on nearby streets and conservation land.


My "wider world" hat is conservative. It is a black beret which I bought ten years ago. It fits naturally on my head, without pressing down on my hair and causing chaos. It blends nicely with my black hair. It makes me feel comfortable and secure; I am well acquainted with its appearance and am confident that my hair will be intact when I remove the hat. My public persona is ordered and in control.


The "community" hat is another story. It is relaxed. My husband describes it as warm, friendly, goofy and happy. It is a substantial fleece hat that comes down over my ears. The wide brim has a mysterious air. It keeps my forehead and neck warm; the sky blue color shows off my eyes. Unlike my father, I am modest in dress; I do not often wear clothing that calls attention to myself. But this hat does ask the viewer to take a second look. Its noticeable presence announces, "I am here!"


I bought the new hat from a mail order catalogue just four months ago. It looked cozy and felt that way when I tried it on. The hat enveloped me and I felt carefree. When I first looked in the mirror, I was amazed. Was I prepared to contradict my mild tone in dress? Recently, a friend reminded me that hats help us recover fun in our lives. "As I have gotten older," she writes, "I have discovered the daily need to make fun out of little things, since much of life seems so serious...It feels great to put on a silly or odd looking hat and watch people smile - sometimes they laugh, which is even better!" To create fun, I shed my shoulds and embrace impulsivity.


In the warmer months, I am often seen with a baseball hat on my head. With a statement written on my hat, I am able to carry memories and identities with me. My "Hillsboro Camp" hat is the one I wear most often. It signifies friendship and play. My "New York Mets" hat revives memories of frolicking with my brother, still a devoted fan of the team. It is this hat I might wear on a day when I feel the need for support and encouragement. And there is my blue baseball hat with no writing. That is for days when I feel private and quiet. For there are times when we hide under hats; they can shield us from the world.


Hats may mark a specific time in our lives. There are stories and memories hidden under them. My friend, Caryn, remembers the first time she met her husband. They were both waiting at a bus stop in the rain in Seattle. "Michael was wearing an old worn felt hat, like a top hat, and it was the kind that my father would wear everyday to work when I was little," she says. "It made him look so kind and gentle and grown up. The hat was his brother Frankie's who had died earlier that year. Before that it was his grandfather's."


Hats allow us to become another. They are a mirror of our many selves. Some hats we have found; some have found us. Who will you become when you wear your next hat?


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