Friday, August 26, 2016

Hats Off

I go down one flight from apartment 3F-B to 2F-B. It is the summer of ’46, my first job. For 25 cents a-throw I am hired by Mrs. Danziger to deliver women’s hats by subway into Manhattan. She decorates them with feathers, flowers and birdies made from ribbon or lace. The boxes are practically weightless but stacked up they are a wall I can hide behind. It’s a good thing I wasn’t born 15 years later. The industry would have been gone.

Old photos of baseball games showed a sea of straw hats. It wasn’t so much a fashion statement as essential attire. Even anarchists wore them. No self-respecting gangster would be seen naked on top.

My theory is that Dwight Eisenhower’s famous farewell speech had a typo. When he warned against the military-industrial complex he was really talking about the millinery-industrial complex.

By the end of the 50’s hats were beginning to disappear. JFK’s inaugural speech shows him with his head of hair blowing in the wind. However he did wear the obligatory top hat walking the walk with Ike from the White House as the baton was being passed.

Most of us credit or blame Kennedy from Camelot with the demise of the hat. We might even trace it back a few years earlier when Eisenhower installed the transcontinental highway system. Cars became the dominant form of transportation and hats just wouldn’t do with the low ceiling.

Or maybe we should go to Hollywood which sets trends as much as they follow them. Carmen Miranda who sang and samba’d with a fruit medley on her head was gone by 1953. Eight years earlier she was the highest paid woman in the U.S.

Hollywood had hats on heads until the mid-sixties. They covered bad hair days and no-hair domes. It’s impossible to think of Fred Astaire without his top hat or Sinatra minus his fedora. Hats became an essential part of the scenery…until they didn’t. All of a sudden they disappeared just as my father’s Adams’ hat with its mysterious labyrinthine creases ended up on a shelf in the hall closet.

Hair was in, lots of it. Women’s hats got in the way of their sun glasses and bouffants. Gone was the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Mrs. Danziger took an early retirement. Hat-check girls had to look for some other career opportunity. Now if you want to see hats you have to turn on Turner Classic Movies or re-runs of Mad Men.

Cursed be the day Donald Trump threw his hat in the ring and has been talking through it ever since. He seems to be going bareheaded these days. Maybe it’s because he is starting to eat his hat along with all those hate-filled words he spewed to get our attention.

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