Saturday, June 22

Explaining the allure of a stupid hat?

Many of us, men that is, will spend years of our lives, multiple decades in some cases, dreaming of and actively searching for the perfect hat.  

I’m not talking about any hat, or a cap (which I’ll get to), but something classic, nostalgic and preferably unique. This is the hat one imagines they would rarely be separated from, save for showers and sex. And in the case of the latter, if the hat could remain a part of the action, all the better. 

This slippery accessory would not be a practical purchase but would serve solely as a type of trademark. A brand. There was a well-known Auckland barman, who sadly passed away recently, affectionately referred to as ‘The Hat’ on account of – you guessed it – his never being seen outside of a wide-brimmed black felt Fedora. ‘The Hat’ achieved what many of us truly think we want.  

But is the wearing of a distinctive hat, even an eye-catching one, full of character, the magnetic experience for spectators that we imagine it to be? 

Or do they consider the wearer a bit of a wanker? 

As long as I could remember, I had a thought that the right hat would transform my life. I understand now how lacking in confidence I must have been to assume a tweed ‘Ascot cap’, a ‘Homburg’ or ‘Newsboy’ could have papered over the cracks in a deficient personality. 

By the mid-00s plenty of men around the inner city were wearing Pasifika patterned ‘Pork Pie’ hats. For those aware of him, screenwriter Nick Ward (Stickman, Wellington Paranormal) was never seen without one for a spell. 

I was an out-of-work actor around this time, with a young child to support, so such hats were out of my price range, even at their starting price of around $40. But I lucked upon some cash from one of my few-and-far-between jobs and prioritized a hat over the late power, phone or growing daycare bills. 

I saw the one I thought I wanted, placed it on my head and asked the young female shop assistant what she thought. It suited me, she lied. I asked for a mirror, was directed to one and soon found myself staring at Harpo Marx. I thanked her, placed the hat back on the stand and exited the shop. I don’t believe I have ever tried on a single novelty hat since. 

This was a painful yet nessacary day. 

Baseball caps are, of course, common and grown men will even wear them backwards. A complaint made by actor and writer Stephen Fry was that this practise seemed to suggest a reversion to childhood. Caps don’t really factor in this thesis because they can’t be used to suggest originality. Unless one was to wear one with a suit, which few men do, and for good reason. The ensemble is moronic. 

A major pitfall about becoming associated with a distinctive hat is that many people assume you to be bald. 

We’ve all become comfortable with a hat-wearing acquaintance, only to have them remove the hat to satisfy an itch and horrify us with a pink, spotted, misshapen crown. Once you’ve experienced a moment like this (and we all have) you cannot help but think that this is the universal secret of perpetual hat wearers.  

I have seen novel headwear put to practical use, for example in conflict resolution. I worked at a call centre when I was much younger, alongside a rake-thin, bearded man from Ranui. Tensions between this man and our employer boiled over one afternoon, and the man returned the following day, wanting words with our employer, only this time wearing a bandana to complement his skinny black tie. Police ended up being called in to defuse the situation, which does call into question the bandana’s effectiveness in producing satisfying settlements. Nonetheless, the attire remains popular in West Auckland when parties find themselves at an impasse. 

What this obsession with procuring a distinguishing hat tells me is that we often seek remedy for deep personal crises in the most superficial of things. We add to, rather than strip away and go deeper. We perform our identities rather than truly feel them. 

And yet, maybe appearing in public wearing a decoration that sharply signals one to be an enthusiastic and committed masturbator for six or seven months is an important part of this journey. 

I mean if authenticity was easy, we’d all be doing it, wouldn’t we?