Ruminations on the Hat
Since I was seven years old, I've worn baseball caps. I wore them when I had so much hair that I had to buy hats a size too large, just to contain my Oscar Gamble-like halo of hair.
One day in 1973, I took my beloved New York Mets hat off twice, for a total of 4 minutes. I noted it, then bragged about it for weeks. It was summer, so I didn't have to remove it for school.
At the time, it was possible to cloak myself entirely in Mets logoed gear. I had the Mets hat, the Mets t-shirt and the Mets jacket. No Mets pants, though Larry Wolk did hand me down a pair of Miami Dolphins cords, which I paired with my Kevin Arnold-style Dolphins letterman jacket.
Since that time, I've experimented with many looks. All of them went just fine with a baseball cap. And each time popular baseball cap style changed, I changed with it.
First, I adopted the mid-70s kid fit: slammed down on your head to contain as much hair as possible, this look always resulted in what my mother called "wings," that is, my pre-puberty Jewish hair was so wavy that it would curl up over my ears, creating huge, magnificent, Dumbo-esque ramps of hair. It didn't really matter that I had constant hat hair. I never took off my hat.
Those, yes, were the days, my friend.
At some point in the late 1970s-early 1980s, when playing baseball became as important as wearing a baseball cap, my style evolved as my hair shrunk. By high school I was wearing my lettuce tight, helmet-like, and perching my hat on top of my head, tilted back to reveal something I would be very proud to reveal today: bangs.
Not too high on my head, however. Not high enough to, as my very athletically gifted but undersized friend Phreb once said, "house a family of midgets under there." Give Phreb a break. It was 1983 and "midget" wasn't yet a slur.
That was a good look. Out on the town, my cardinal and gold El Modena High School lid casually slapped on my head, making me obviously a varsity player even without the accompanying maroon silky jacket with "EL MODENA BASEBALL" sewn on the back, I felt like a part of something, like a real jock.
A few years later, while living in Seattle, I still sported the visible bangs look. It was especially effective during my freshman year of college, when I tried to grow out my bangs like the guy in the gold suit from ABC, only to find that my post-puberty Jewish hair could manage only the approximation of a rooster tail, like the shocking red one adopted by Bud/and or Marsi during the depths of her punk phase.
Senator Chris Winn was the first guy I saw who pulled his baseball cap down onto his head, completely hiding what was, and probably still is, I haven't seen him in years, one of the best heads of hair I've ever seen on a human being. This was fine with Chris. He wore his obvious physical gifts uncomfortably, pleased at the access they allowed him to some of life's finer things, but also concerned that they took away from his grittiness. As a result, he jammed his hat down onto his head, resulting in what his girlfriend commented "looks like a tennis ball."
We did not know that he, like Tim Lynch, who shaved his head in 1981 and looked like an old-time ballplayer in his hat, was actually riding the leading edge. Before long, we'd all have our hats slammed onto our heads.
But first, we would abuse our hats in the worst ways. We would wear them backwards, something I am as guilty of as anyone. My mid-20s were lousy with backwards hats, forcing strangers to accost me on MUNI and sometimes refer to me as "people like you."
And then, suddenly, the backwards hat became a symbol for the worst kind of uncool. The backwards hat lost favor almost as quickly and totally as the "wild shorts" did in the mid-80s. Immediately, struck with a case of selective amnesia that would do a pro-Palestinian activist proud, I joined the loud chorus of backwards hat denouncers.
I had already moved on.
For a time, during the great volleyball obsession of the late 80s and early 90s, we wore much smaller hats. They had the names of clothing companies on them, rather than the names of sports teams. We wore them pushed low, with the brims flipped up, so as not to catch our hands on them while delivering a perfect set at the net. It was this hat style that somehow convinced the coach of the Cambridge, Mass. volleyball team I tried out for in 1989 that I had talent, though I was raw. "I saw that hat and I figured you knew something about volleyball," she said. Or something about posing, I thought.
And then came my favorite hat style, the one that has led to my present-day hat crisis. In the late 90s, when I started teaching high school, I noticed that all of the boys wore baseball caps with perfectly rounded bills. They wore them low and peered out from under the bills as if they were just about to throw a 95 mile per hour fastball just off the inside corner, scaring the crap out of you and sending the message that the inside part of the plate is theirs.
I love that look, and once one of the kids I was coaching at the time showed me how to achieve it (by rolling the bill over your forearm repeatedly), I adopted it as my own look. The low look complemented my new lack of hair perfectly. With the hat down low and what was left of my hair clipped literally to within a quarter inch of its life, the result was that I took on the air of a serious ballplayer, one who shaved his head not because he was going bald but because it flat out looks tough.
And there I have stayed, happier still to find that hats were now being sold with the bill pre-rolled. The kids took it too far, crumpling their bills until the cardboard hidden inside came poking out through the fabric. They showed up with triangular bills, bills that looked as if they'd been rolled across the forearms of Nicole Richie. I kept mine perfectly rounded. And tough.
A few years ago, when hip-hop style replaced sports style as the point of reference baseball cap etiquette, I noticed more and more of what I considered to be horrid mutations in baseball cap style. Now the brim was perfectly flat, and the size tag was left on, along with the price tag. I wear a 7 3/8, sometimes a 7 1/2, and I'm not Minnie Pearl, so I'm not on board with either tag making its presence felt on my hat.
The angle of the hat has changed, too. No longer is the hat jammed securely on your head. It floats, usually askew -- which used to be the tell-tale sign that you were lefthanded, by the way, according to several former coaches of mine -- and the brim tails off somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees of straight on. Frankly, to my middle-aged eyes, it looks ridiculous and anything but sporty and tough.
Make no mistake: these guys wearing their hats at ridiculous angles are far tougher than me. Their hats don't reflect it.
The real problem is that, after 30 years of moving with the trends, I've gotten stuck in late-90s style, unable to move forward or backwards. I know that when I leave the house -- especially after more than a week without a haircut, when I generally don't go outside without a baseball cap -- I am presenting to the world the image of a burned-out fashion has-been. Someone who, if asked, would as likely claim to choose their clothing "because it's comfortable." That's the kind of thinking that leads to sweat pants and fanny packs. And yet, I hang on.
Why? Why does this latest trend in baseball cap style strike me as so wrong? Why is it completely out of the question for me to try it on for size? I've tried every other ridiculous permutation of baseball cap wear, why not this one?
Is this what getting old feels like? I guess so. That and going bald, I guess.