BYGONE TOPPERS

Once upon a time hats were an important part of our daily lives. Men and boys wore berets, boaters, derbys, fedoras, homburgs, panamas, porkpies, trilbys and even coonskins. The ladies, God bless them, tantalized us guys with their fancy bonnets, veiled pillboxes and feather and flower-bedecked creations. Life seemed more stylish and interesting then. You could tell a lot about a hat wearer’s personality and attitude.

There are photos of the Yankee Stadium grandstands in Babe Ruth’s time where 99 percent of the fans wore some kind of formal toppers. The only baseball caps were worn down on the playing field.

Hats were more than mere head protectors. They were personal symbols and artifacts in polite society. Men tipped them to greet ladies and ladies wore them to church and luncheons and decorated them to attract men. They were the subjects of many of our metaphorical sayings: His hat’s in the ring…..My hat’s off to you…..Keep this under your hat…..With hat in hand, I apologize. We don’t hear these saying much anymore. The younger generation probably thinks they’re old hat.

While baseball caps have become part of our boring modern uniform along with overpriced ragged jeans and designer sneakers, a very few unique hats have survived to designate vocations or rank. The chef’s toque, the bishop’s miter and the military officer’s decorated peaked cap are examples, but we should have a much larger selection with 7.8 billion heads in the world to work with.

Some policemen wear baseball caps now instead of their time-honored peaked caps. During emergencies we need to be able to identify those in charge so we can take orders . If a policeman tells me to leave a crime scene area, I’ll make the necessary U-turn immediately. But if he wears the hat of a Mets left fielder they’ll be a slight delay until I see the badge.

That’s part of our problem. If we’re all baseball-hatted, we’re basically anonymous as we move about in public. Our neighborhood strolls would be much more interesting if we could identify the occupations or professions of passersby. Easily recognizable would be goggled aviators, railroad engineers, safari guides, Keystone Kops, convicts, cowboys, matadors and court jesters. The fellow in the bicorn hat is most likely a lunatic with a Napoleonic delusion, but we could just give him and the escaped convict double the social distance.

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