Day 149: Planning My Next Cranial Accessory

originally published May 28, 2012

I need a new hat.

I don’t run in the kind of social circles that would put up with a top hat, and a fedora always makes me look a little too Jewy. A beret sends the wrong message regarding my limited tolerance for slam poetry, a bowler hat makes me feel too pretentious, and a hardhat would just be weird, given that I work in an office. A toque is too cold-weathery, a coonskin cap is too dead-animalish, and a baseball cap would be a tragically ordinary selection.

But I need something. The luster of my last haircut has faded, and I’ve reached the stage where I simply do what I can every morning to keep it from pointing out at gravitationally offensive angles. A hat would cure this. I’d try sporting an epanokamelavkion if I thought I could get away with it.

Fortunately, Wikipedia always comes through with the goods when I need to research important matters such as this. For example, I learned that had I been undergoing this dilemma 201 years ago, I’d probably be more concerned with price rather than appearance.

This was due to the British Hat Tax of 1784-1811. After losing the war that gave America her independence, the Brits needed to retool their finances to bring themselves out of the red. Prime Minister William Pitt (the Younger) felt he needed to go after his nation’s hats.

First, hat retailers had to buy a license. Then each hat required a ‘revenue stamp’ on the inside lining; the stamp represented how much tax was to be charged. Cheaper hats were taxed less, and really fancy hats were taxed high. Failing to pay the hat tax would result in an unpleasant fine, but if you were caught forging the revenue stamp on a hat? That’s the death penalty.

Sporting a sombrero in western Canada might not add to my prestige, but I would become a walking conversation piece, so there’s that. Wikipedia boasts four different varieties of sombrero; all this time I thought there were only two: the normal kind and the Urban Sombrero from Seinfeld.

The sombrero calañés has a low crown and an upturned brim that rolls right over itself, usually with a knobby kind of ornamentation at the top, like so:

I like this one. But living in a climate that sees a fair amount of precipitation, I’d worry about water accumulation inside the brim. I have a hard enough time keeping my balance as it is.

A sombrero cordobés is quite possibly the most stylish and workable of the bunch. It’s the kind of sombrero that says, “Yes, I know how to work a sword and I bed down with a lot of exotic women. Sometimes they pay me for the pleasure.” I like that. As a government employee, I think I could totally rock that. But I worry that while I’d try to look like this suave hombre:

I’d end up looking touristy and a little schmucky, like this guy:

The sombrero de catite is not everyday wear, unless you want to establish your “look” as a confused Mexican party clown.

The sombrero vueltiao started out as a Colombian peasant hat, and rose to become a national symbol. This is by far the funkiest of the sombrero gang, and it has both old-school acceptance (Pope John Paul II once gave a sermon while wearing one), and street cred among sex-lovin’ older white people. Bill Clinton was seen sporting a vueltiao while visiting Cartagena, possibly in search of Joan Wilder’s sister.

Alright, I think I’ll pass on the sombrero. It’s a lot of hat for just one head, and I’m already paranoid enough about angering the voodoo spirits that I know are hidden within door frames.

My Albertan identity would gel nicely with a cowboy hat I suppose, though given my strong aversion to country music, I would feel kind of silly walking around like that. Honestly, unless you’re actually on a ranch, or in some kind of situation that requires a wide brim to keep sun or rain off your shoulders, if you’re wearing a cowboy hat in modern urban western society, you’re basically walking around in a Halloween costume. And if you can get away with that, I should be allowed to dress up in full C3PO garb whenever the mood strikes.

Perhaps the most shocking hat-related article in the Wikisphere belongs to the Straw Hat Riot of 1922.

In New York City, the fashion capital of America, it is simply gauche and improper to wear the wrong kind of hat on the wrong day. Straw hats are fine, but only before September 15. Why September 15? I’m not entirely sure. But that was the commonly accepted date when you had to switch from this:

To this:

…or else face possible death. Traditionally, young New Yorkers would knock straw hats off offender’s heads, stomp on them and taunt the people who were wearing them after the magic date. In 1922, things turned ugly. Getting a jump-start on the changeover date, a group of kids in the Mulberry Bend district of New York’s infamous Five Points neighborhood starting knocking straw hats off heads on September 13. They tried to stomp on some dockworkers’ hats, and a fight ensued.

In this part of New York, a fight easily slid into a brawl, and a brawl had no problem stretching into a full-on riot. Traffic was stopped on the Manhattan Bridge. Arrests were made. The next day the hat-hunt escalated. Youths were carrying sticks, some with nails driven through the top. They stomped every straw hat they could find and beat the heavenly crap out of anyone who resisted. A thousand youths marched down Amsterdam Avenue, beating on people so badly they required hospitalization. Off-duty cops were attacked.

Because of a hat.

A number of people were arrested, and some did jail time. This violent tradition continued as long as the seasonal hat-switch fad persisted, right through the 1920s. In 1924 there were fewer acts of violence, but an actual fatality reported because some guy didn’t want his hat to be crushed.

This is why New York is the fashion capital of North America. People will die for fashion there.

Me, I’m a little put off by the whole affair. I think my hat purchase has to be something pleasing, something that never goes out of style. Something I’ll never have to defend with my life.

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