Thursday, April 01, 2010

Getting the hang of hats

Stuart Reid, of Sunday Telegraph and Spectator fame is always worth reading but one recent article in the Catholic Herald was sartorial rather than theological in nature.

I hereby reproduce the article in full along with my comments:


When you get old, you started do things that you would never have dreamt of doing when you were young and still had a bit of self-respect. Like wearing a hat.

I have a brown felt hat with a wide brim. You might call it a trilby that is too big for its boots, or maybe it is a fedora. I've had the hat for some time, but until fairly recently seldom wore it.

One reason was vanity: I feared that I looked more idiotic in a hat than out of one, and the fear was not entirely groundless. Once, when I was returning home by Tube from the office, a high-spirited young man indicated my hat to his companions and cried out: "Yee-haw!" My, the merriment... [The contempt of the ignorant is surely a good reason to wear a hat?]

This winter, however, I have been wearing my hat a lot, and I am now beginning to think that a hat might bring dignity and purpose to my declining years. If I am to be worthy of a hat, however, I really must learn how to use one.

Unfortunately, there are not many instructors left. Men stopped wearing hats in the Sixties, apparently under the influence of President Kennedy, who liked to go about uncovered. [If the Kennedy went about uncovered, this would surely be a motive to do the opposite?]

Perhaps I can learn from my father's example. He wore a trilby in town and would raise it rather elaborately when approaching a woman. There was something theatrical about this gesture, even a bit ironic, but it was charming all the same. When he was a bit tight, he would take his hat off, press it to his chest, click his heels, and bow. [Splendid.]

Until last week, I had never thought that I might one day do something of the sort myself. In the past few days, however, and very tentatively - you don't want to get into trouble with the police - I have started to raise my hat to women on the common.

I obviously still have much to learn. Should you, for example, doff your hat to strange women (as I do)? Or only to women you know, such as your wife or mother or case-worker? I am not absolutely sure. [I read somewhere that this depends on one's level of intimacy with the lady in question, something that could lead to awkward social situations I'm sure.]

In the course of researching this subject, however, I came across an article by Marian T Horvat, PhD entitled "Getting the Ball Rolling on Hats". The article was posted on "Tradition in Action", a website edited by Atila Sinke GuimarĂ£es, a Brazilian of German extraction.

In spite of its occasionally rather strident tone, the site appears to be sound on hats. At any rate I can detect nothing heretical or schismatic or unreasonably integrist in its approach.

Here's what the good Dr Horvat has to say: "Besides protecting a man against the elements, a hat properly worn gives him dignity. [I fear that this is not always the case. A trilby worn at an illicitly jaunty angle could look positively rakish.] It also permits him to practise a small ceremonial, that is, an act recognising the right condition or social status of others."

For example: "If a lady who is a stranger thanks [a man] for some service or assistance, he lifts his hat in acknowledgement."If he accidentally jostles or disturbs a lady in a crowd or in passing her in a tight space, he lifts his hat and excuses himself, saying 'I beg your pardon'."

Also: "A man habitually doffs his hat when he enters into a conversation with a lady or a group of ladies. [What if it is a group of ladies plus someone of indeterminate gender? Should one simply adjust the angle of their hat to play safe?] If the conversation is more than a short greeting, the well-bred lady or ladies should invite him after a short while to return his hat to his head. The man also recovers his hat should he continued on his walk either alone or with one of the ladies."

Furthermore: "If the man stops to speak with a superior, after greeting him, he should remain with his feet together and with his hat in his hand until he is invited to cover his head."Plus: "Keep your hat clean and free from dust, sweat, dirt, and fuzz. The fact that a hat belonged to your grandfather or has a sentimental value does not legitimise the use of a dirty, stained or tattered hat. Far from being considered a gentleman and a man of good taste, the wearer of such a hat makes himself a laughing stock in good society."

Way to go, Dr Horvat. Here's another tip: when you doff your hat you should keep the inside of it towards yourself, since no one wants to see the stained sweat band, the traces of Truefitt & Hill Hair Management Pomade, the white rabbit, etc. [Eminently sensible.]

Where does all this leave the priests who have lately taken to wearing soup-plate hats? It's not for me to say, but here's a rubric I have just made up: if a priest wearing a soup-plate hat meets a lady parishioner, he should smile encouragingly and extend his hand so that she may kiss it. [The hand or the hat?]

Same applies to priests who wear a biretta outside. It goes without saying that laymen must remove their hats before entering a church. Or does it? You will quite often see men in baseball caps in church, especially in the great churches of Tuscany, but they seem to have been born - and perhaps conceived - in baseball caps, and therefore do not know that they are wearing one.

Conversely, some women remove their baseball hats when entering a church, out of a misguided sense of respect, not knowing that women are still encouraged to cover their heads. [So the baseball hat could act as a mantilla in the spirit of Vatican II?]

It would be a mistake to get too fogey about this. [Why not?] The old ways are best, of course, but that's no excuse for obscurantism.

Not so long ago, according to Dr Seuss, the International Hat-Doffing Rules Committee met to revise Rule Number 196. [If the IHDRC doesn't actually exist, I want to found it.] That rule, as Dr Seuss records, deals with the etiquette of doffing a top hat while carrying a cane, an umbrella, a bust of Catullus and a watermelon. Condemning the old way as too clumsy - but without describing it - the Committee now allows you to balance the watermelon on your left calf. [I strongly disagree with this decision and think the watermelon should be balanced on the bust of Catullus which should be balanced on the right calf.]

Sorted. Maybe I'll get the hang of hats after all.

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