Terrible Weather & Horrible Protestant Hats

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I started this week off having lots of ideas for this today’s post, but it seems that Mother Nature had her own ideas. A combination of single digit temperatures, me not being ready to brave such temps yet, and being sick for the last two days resulted in me taking zero pictures (On a positive note, I did get to wear cords ad a Shetland every day.) this week. One morning this week as I was gearing up to face the morning’s frigid air with my hat, gloves, and scarf I thought back to P.J. O’Rourke’s essay “Horrible Protestant Hats.” I have included the essay below. I hope that you enjoy it.

 Horrible Protestant Hats by P.J. O’Rourke

Getting ready to go outdoors on a drizzly afternoon, I donned a trench coat, picked up an umbrella and deposited a canvas rain hat on my head. My girlfriend, a Roman Catholic, began to laugh and point. “Oh!” she said. “What a horrible Protestant hat!” I looked in the mirror. True, the porkpie-style Brooks Brothers rain hat with the brim turned down on all sides does give one the look of . . . well, a poorly matched part sticking out of a recalled American car. It set me thinking.

Protestants do wear terrible hats, especially well-off, adult male Protestants whom we usually call WASPs. They wear woven-vegetable-matter summer hats with madras hatbands. These look like hospital gifts that died at the florist’s. They wear “Irish” tweed hats no self-respecting Irishman would put on his plow horse. They wear herringbone wool caps that can give a bank president the semblance of a rioting English coal miner. Old artsy WASPs wear embarrassing berets. Middle-aged WASPs who’ve just gotten a divorce and a sports car wear dopey suede touring caps with a snap on the brim. Then there are the fur astrakhans worn by lawyers who, I guess, want their clients to think they run a gulag on the side.

Beyond city limits the situation is worse. Where I live in New England, the summer people give evidence that slouch hats cause feeblemindedness in adults. Panama hats produce a different effect — imbecility combined with moral turpitude. And there is no polite phrase in English for what a vacationing executive from Boston looks like in a Greek fisherman’s cap.

Getting anywhere near the water seems to produce WASP hat lunacy. Fly fishermen wear astonishing things on their heads and always decorate them with dozens of dry flies as though at any minute they might dip their very skulls into the torrent and land giant trout with their necks. It’s hard to look more stupid than a deep-sea fisherman does in his swordbill cap. Hard, but not impossible. This is accomplished by the ordinary Kennebunk cruiser hat, which is nothing but the cap from a child’s sailor suit with its brim yanked down over eyes, ears and sometimes nose. Worn thus it resembles nothing so much as a white cotton condom for the brain. Boat hats, indeed, run the gamut of foolery starting with the simple watch cap, making its wearers seem only unlettered, and winding up with the enormous yellow rubber sou’wester foul-weather chapeau, in which even George Bush would look like a drunk cartoon character doing a tuna-fish ad.

Snow and other frozen forms of water produce no improvement. If there is anything — vassalage, Bolshevism, purdah — more deleterious to the spirit of human dignity than the knit ski cap, I have not heard of it. Professional circus clowns, medieval court jesters, Trans-Carpathian village idiots, any one of them would balk at wearing a five-foot-long purple, green, red, pink and orange cranial sock with a pom-pon on the end. And even this is not so bad as what a WASP will wear in the winter when not on the ski slopes. Then, he shovels the walk in a vinyl-brimmed plaid cap with earflaps that tie up over the head — what must be the worst hat on earth.

I am only half Protestant, but my closet shelf reveals a disgusting Moose River canoeing hat, an idiotic Florida Keys bonefishing hat with brims at both ends, several crownless tennis visors that make me look like an Olympic contestant in double-entry bookkeeping and a plethora of the ubiquitous ad-emblazoned baseball caps that show I have been renting out frontal lobe space to Purolator, Firestone and the Kittery, Maine, 1978 Jubilee Days. And let’s not discuss the International Signal orange dunce cap I wear to go bird shooting.

Now it’s true, other ethnic groups also wear unusual headgear. Blacks, Orthodox Jews, Irish archbishops and Italian steelworkers are just a few. But the Stetsons of Harlem’s 125th Street are intentionally outrageous, yarmulkes are items of religious faith, and so forth. WASPs wear their hats in all seriousness, without spiritual reasons or historical traditions for doing so, and not a single one of their bizarre toppers would be any help if an I-beam fell on it. Nonetheless, a WASP will tell you his hat is functional. I believe that whenever anyone uses the word “functional” he’s in the first sentence of a lame excuse. The real reason WASPs wear goofy hats is that goofy-hat wearing satisfies a deep-seated need. In gin-and-tonic veritas, give a WASP six drinks and he’ll always put something silly on his head — a lamp shade, ladies’ underwear, an L.L. Bean dog bed, you name it. In more sober and inhibited moments he’ll make do with an Australian bush hat, a tam-o’-shanter or the Texan monstrosity all WASPs affect when they get within telexing distance of a cow.

Until the end of the Eisenhower era, WASPs wore wonderful haberdashery. They went about in perfectly blocked and creased homburgs, jaunty straw boaters, majestic opera hats and substantial bowlers. A gentleman would sooner wear two-tone shoes to a diplomatic reception than appear in public without a proper hat. Then something happened.

Adult male Protestants of the better-off kind are a prominent social group. They make up a large percentage of our business executives, politicians and educators. Maybe it’s no accident that the rise of the silly hat has coincided with the decline of business ethics, the rise of functional illiteracy and the general decline of the U.S. as a world power. The head is symbolic of reason, discipline, good sense and self-mastery. Putting on the back of it a fuzzy green Tyrolean hat decorated with a tuft of deer means trouble. Our native aristocracy, those among us with greatest advantages, the best resources and the broadest opportunities to do good have decided to abrogate all civilized responsibilities, give free play to the id and run around acting like a bunch of. . . .

Wait a minute! Down by the dock — I just saw a WASP with a pitcher of martinis trying to put a fedora on his dog!

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is a simple man interested in simple, classic, and traditional style.

2 Comments on "Terrible Weather & Horrible Protestant Hats"

  1. Camford says:

    Impossible to disagree with O’Rourke.

  2. jimw says:

    Which brings to mind some more Pearls from P.J.:

    ” ‘N’ is for Nike, it’s a missile, not a shoe,
    Get yourself an oxford, in cordovan not blue.”

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