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Hats off to the cold.


John Ruane, who observes the passing scene, wonders why some men don't wear hats in even the coldest weather. "I really can't understand it,' he said to me. "I wonder if they walk around without hats because they are overconcerned about their looks. Do they believe it's not chic or cool to wear a hat?

"Since you have moved into a swinging apartment, and are now considered chic and cool, you might be the person to explain this.'

Yes, in matters that involve being cool and chic, it's widely known that I'm the person to consult. So I'll explain about hats.

It's true that a hat is essential for warmth, because much body heat escapes from the top of the head. But basically there are two kinds of men: those who wear hats and those who don't.

Men who don't wear hats are generally youthful, vigorous, impetuous, and have a devil-may-care glint in their eyes. They're inclined to be dashing, adventurous risk takers. On the other hand, men who make a habit of wearing hats are, I'm sorry to say, fuddy-duddies. As you may recall, President John F. Kennedy was seldom, if ever, seen wearing a hat. In contrast, Herbert Hoover always wore one, even to bed. Because of Kennedy's attitude toward hats, he is remembered as youthful and dashing. Hoover is dismissed by many historians as a dusty old coot.

Naturally, I don't wear a hat, for I've always had a youthful, devil-may-care nature. I'd rather have a numb head, which I often do, than identify with Herbert Hoover.

But hatmakers themselves must share the blame. The fact is, most men's hats look funny, and some of us would rather not put objects that look funny on our heads, especially those of us whose heads look funny enough already.

Let's consider the most popular hats:

First, there is the standard man's hat, which has a brim and a variety of shapes and styles, from the narrow-brimmed porkpie to the wide-brimmed cowboy hat. In between are the standard fedoras, which often come with some poor bird's feather sticking out of the band.

The main trouble with the brimmed hats, besides their appearance, is that in a city as windy as Chicago they are always blowing off. To avoid the indignity of chasing your hat down the street, which isn't very dapper, you have to walk with one hand holding your hat on your head. This causes you to raise your arm high, thus exposing your armpit area to the icy winds. I see no point in keeping the top of my head warm if the price is a cold armpit. To compare the discomforts of the two options, try this experiment: Press an ice cube to the top of your head; then press an ice cube to your armpit. See? It's far worse.

Some men get around the wind problem by jamming their fedoras down on their heads as far as they can. But when they arrive at their indoor destinations and remove their hats, they have deep indentations around their heads, as if someone had been squeezing them with a vise. After years of jamming their hats down on their heads, the indentations become deeper and deeper. Eventually, the upper parts of their heads seem to bulge until they look like science-fiction creatures. A two-piece head is a pretty steep price to pay just to retain a little body heat.

That's why many men choose hats other than the standard fedora. Among the most popular is the Irish walking hat, rumpled and tweedy, or the cheaper version, which looks like something punched out on a machine in Taiwan. In either case, the Irish walking hat makes you look as though you have your head stuck in a funnel, which isn't very suave.

Then there is the Irish cap, a sturdy, simple cap, and just the thing to wear if you want to look like a 1930s cabdriver.

The Russian hat, in wool or fur, is very popular, especially among commuters. As they swarm out of Chicago's Union Station in the morning, they look like thousands of suburban Leonid Brezhnevs.

When the weather turns bitterly cold, the most popular hat is the plain, wool stocking cap, often pulled down over the ears. It gives you the sophisticated look of a rural mail carrier.

Some men wear black berets, because they think they look dapper. And they are, if being dapper means looking like a French pimp.

So my answer to John Ruane is, yes, those of us who refuse to wear hats in cold weather do so out of vanity. We like to give the appearance of being undaunted by the cold and to stroll jauntily with bare heads held high into the teeth of a 40-below wind-chill factor. Oh, sometimes you have to have a blackened ear lobe removed by a doc, but that's the price of looking jaunty.

Being cool and youthfully dashing, the only concession I make to extreme cold is to put on a pair of quilted long underwear from Sears, wool stockings, heavy, insulated boots, a thick scarf, earmuffs, a ski mask, and mittens pinned to my sleeves so I don't lose them.

Of course, if I'm getting out of bed I'll wear even more.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Royko, Mike
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1986
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