Saturday, August 02, 2008

A Tribute to Fedoras

[I am posting this because I need another post but I am too lazy to write something new. Also, my brother threatened to post it for me if I didn't. It was my "Special Occasion/After Dinner Speech" for speech class last semester. It was a manuscript speech, meaning I had the whole thing (rather than merely an outline) on the podium before me. My speech prof said embarrassingly complimentary things about it.]

"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

This is the last thing Humphrey Bogart says at the end of the classic movie Casablanca. But what is the last thing we see? The camera rises and fades backward, and we see Rick and Louis from behind. All we can see of Rick--Bogart's character--is his trench coat, his slouch--and his hat. Bogart was almost never onscreen without his hat. The image of him, with his trench coat tied shut, hands in his pockets, slouched over with a cigarette dangling from his upper lip, is incomplete without the hat, without the fedora.

Cary Grant, who might be described as the quintessential ladies' man, was also rarely without a fedora. At the end of The Philadelphia Story, when his character marries Katherine Hepburn's for the second time, he takes it off--but only reluctantly.

Think of It's a Wonderful Life. Towards the beginning of that movie, Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey is visiting the woman he will eventually marry. They get into a sort of lover's tiff, and he storms out of her house. He returns with the excuse, "I forgot my hat." That hat? A fedora.

And for modern fedora-wearers there is, of course, the one and only Indiana Jones. Indy's fedora is unique--made of a little sterner stuff, the better to take the desert heat and the jungle mist, to survive falling into pits and falling out of planes, and snakes. I hate snakes. The brim of Indy's hat is a little funny too--turned down in the back, atypical. But it doesn't matter. It is a fedora, and whether rolling beneath a stone gate to escape hostile natives, fleeing Nazis on horseback, or jumping from truck to speeding truck--he never loses it.

Now, I am no Indiana Jones, no Jimmy Stewart, no Cary Grant and certainly no Bogart. At least not yet. But I and many of my friends habitually wear fedoras as well. What is it about this hat, this quintessence of felt and ribbon, that so excites us, that inspires such loyalty and admiration?

Well, half of it is practical, but only half. The fedora really is a well-designed hat. It sits securely on your head, but it does not sit strictly--the only people who feel constricted by a fedora are those with big heads wearing small sizes. Because of this, and because of the sweat band on the inside of the hat, strenuous activity doesn't upset the fedora--it keeps a stiff upper lip and plods along, right with you. It's an easy-going hat, and versatile. You can wear it in the rain, and it will keep you dry; you can wear it in the heat, and its long brim will shield your face and the back of your neck. If you're bored, you can talk to it, and it will at least pretend to listen. I don't recommend this last in public, though.

A fedora is durable, as well. A fedora belonging to a friend of mine blew off his head on a windy day. It blew straight into the path of an oncoming car, which ran it over. My friend picked it up, popped it back into position, and it was good as new.

There is another half to the fedora's attraction, and this is the side that is difficult to put into words. There's a sort of metaphysical, spiritual bond between a fedora and its owner. A fedora looks, if you'll pardon the much-overused colloquialism, cool. There's something about walking in the rain, with your head down and the fedora shielding your face and taking the rain so you don't have to--it's like being in trouble and having a friend, uncomplaining, who takes the rap for you. You feel more like yourself, in a fedora. As though your best features are exaggerated, and your worst ones, hidden away.

Whether saying goodbye to the love of your life, escaping angry Nazis, or just going to class every day, the fedora adds some dash, some panache, some whiplash to an outfit. It makes life more interesting, cool, and ultimately more enjoyable.


Nat said...

Two things, your second-last paragraph reminded me of. The first was that song at the beginning of Toy Story. You remember it?

You've got a friend in me

Some other folks might be
A little bit smarter than I am
Bigger and stronger too
But none of them will ever love you the way I do
It's me and you
And as the years go by
Boys, our friendship will never die
You're gonna see
It's our destiny
You've got a friend in me

The other thing I was reminded of was a line in one of Bill Cosby's routines. A fairly old routine, about drugs and alcohol and the people who use them. And he gave a dialogue between himself and a proponent of - I forget what it was exactly, I think cocaine - and the dialogue went something like this:

Proponent: "Well you see, the point of cocaine is that it intensifies your personality."

Cosby: "Well, yes, but what if you're an asshole?"

Incidentally, that's the only knowledge of I have of Cosby swearing during any performance or act. No, I'm not making light of anything you said, just sharing the sort associations that come into my mind.

As for hats -
I've actually been meaning to get a summer/casual hat; my bowler is strictly formal and my driver's cap is too warm and not small-brimmed to be of any particular use in hot weather. I've been hesitant to get a fedora, as it seems like a lot of my friends have fedoras; I've been looking around for a good boater or panama, but unfortunately, we don't live in a particularly good generation for hats, and my interest is too cursory to pay what would probably be considered a reasonable amount for a reasonable hat. Of course, the lines betweens these different styles (especially the fedora, which sort of branches out to trilbies, panamas, and others), are not particularly well-defined.

Ethan said...

haha. I hadn't seen Toy Story in probably ten years, so that association didn't occur to me. And the Cosby thing... makes me suddenly want to do a metaphorical comparison of fedoras and drugs, which it is probably good I didn't think of while writing the speech.

As to hats-
Yeah, a nice hat that's not a baseball cap is a bit pricy, these days. Well, you can get a trilby at Kohl's and such places for pretty cheap, but I object to those hats, not only because trilbies are poser fedoras, but because these cheap ones look like poser hats.

...It's hard to describe what I mean, and I'm not saying it's impossible to pull off with aplomb; but it's not easy. Anyway, a good panama or boater would be cool. There are a couple websites I know of that sell such hats for $40 or so--that's probably about the cheapest you'll get a good one.

Oh, your other possibility might be antique shops. I don't know if you're a frequenter of such places, but you might very well find a nice hat for fairly cheap at one. (Antique dealers vary wildly in their pricing--you could easily get someone selling what should be a pricier hat fairly inexpensively.)

NOT Freddy Jones said...

Lovely speech, Ethan.

One point you forgot; the ladies also looove fedoras. I can confirm this from first-hand experience. While at B&N's pre-rising dawn party, the one guy there who didn't look either gay, or as if his girlfriend had dragged him there was wearing a lovely fedora. I think he must have though I was stalking him by the end of the evening, though.. really, I just liked the hat, and was kind of unintentionally following him around, whenever I wasn't distracted by some other attraction. A sort of a "Hat!-ooh, something new and interesting-Hat!" reaction. Never plucked up the courage to tell him how much I admired it, though. Pity.
Eh, he was prolly some jerk, anyway.

Again, lovely speech. Thankies fer posting.

Darth Nemoyer said...

"So they say Captain Hammer’s become a crusader. Political. He’s cleaning up the streets."
"About time!"

--Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Act II, "So They Say"

Ethan said...

Robin: Thank you. And that's probably something else it's good I didn't put in the speech--you can go to events and not look gay or like your girlfriend dragged you there! Hurrah! ...Though, I must ask, what with your strong reaction to Twilight, why were you at a Breaking Dawn party?

N: ...

Paul said...

Firstly, before I give criticism, I would like us all to be clear on one point: I thought it was beautifully written, and I enjoyed reading it.

The sentence, "I don't recommend this last in public, though." I find to be awkward and out of place. I would imagine there has to be a more eloquent way to slip in this joke.

I find the phrase, "and it was good as new." to be used after the "it" was fixed or mended. Maybe using the word "still," or indicating some action on Jacob's(?) part, like banging the hat out.

Yet even with the clauses that annoyed me, I really liked it.

I was just about to exclaim quite frustrated that Trilbies are not posers. That they have a distinct personality of their own.

...but then I realized I was thinking of Irish Walking Caps, not Trilbies.

Ethan said...

Thank you, Paul. For both the compliments and the criticism. That first sentence you mentioned I actually rather like (apart from whether it works well), so were I to revise this speech I would keep it in there. (Also, it did get one of the biggest laughs when the speech was actually given.)

The second sentence you mention I'm not sure what you're saying, in more than a general way; but I do think it could've used revising. (Also, you were right, Jacob was the entity referred to.)

And while trilbies are and were designed to be poser fedoras (they replaced the fedora in the sixties, when shorter brims were the fashion), trilbies can be cool, and can be worn with panache; it's just hard for them.

NOT Freddy Jones said...

Ah, um, good question, Ethan. And I really don't know why I attended. Perhaps to get the free stickers they were handing out? Maybe as an excuse to put my hair back without the ridicule of certain family members? Or maybe because it was an excuse to wander around Barnes & Nobles for two hours? Yes! Yes, I think that that was it. Or if it wasn't, I'm going to pretend that it was.

Ethan said...

Or maybe... just maybe... You secretly LIKE those books, and just can't stand to have the general public know this?

NOT Freddy Jones said...

Ha, dream on.

Darth Nemoyer said...

So now I have actually read your after dinner speech--and recognize it from hear you practice once or twice, I think. It is very good. I am--and was--a bit disappointed in one respect though. The feel general of it is more stiff, shallow, and forced sounding than I am used to, master Bartlett. I generally am jealous of how words in your writing flow more candidly than mine know how.

Darth Nemoyer said...

PS. I wish to voice my official support for Ethan in the Trilbies matter. They are most certainly posers. While they have some class to them--infinitely more than that of of bare head--it is only minimal compared to that of a fedora. Also, the narrow brim is a fault and should not be taken as anything else. The superior fedora's brim is admirably utilitarian.

Agent Delta said...

Nicely done Ethan, nicely done.

Could you recommend any good websites, etc. that sell fedoras? I've been wanting to get one, or at least look into getting one, for some time now, but I'm not sure where to start. My use for a fedora would be strictly utilitarian. I'm tired of the rain getting in my face when I decide to go walking in a storm.


Ethan said...

Thank you, sir. The store I got mine from has a website, They have very good hats for decent prices, even with shipping. seems to have some good quality hats; what varies is the quality of their prices.

Strictly utilitarian--are you saying you have no soul? :P

Agent Delta said...

:D Thanks for the sites. I suppose I should also mention that if I get a fedora, it will be a companion to the trench coat I am fond of wearing. :P