Yesterday, I ran into a frail gentleman in a local eatery, escorted by his wife. He was sporting creased khaki pants, an ironed shirt and clean but worn footwear. He was the picture of gentlemanly conduct, soft spoken and observant as he smiled at the greeter recording his name for a table. He wore a ball cap that proclaimed his status as a World War II veteran, specifically in the European theater. His hat was telling a story even before I spoke to him thanking him for our ability to enjoy lunch on a blistering day in Springfield, Mo. There was a certain reverence about him and I am glad that I was able to enjoy a short conversation with this hero of days gone by. I am not sure why, but as we concluded our conversation he returned my appreciation for my military service, a keen observation as my past was not the topic of conversation. I suppose my query as to his unit in Europe triggered his confirmation as to my status as a veteran. His hat was the catalyst for a couple of vets to share a moment. This happening stimulated this musing about the unspoken words that hats convey.
Back around 2000, then Army chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, made the decision to place soldiers in the US Army in black berets as opposed to the more traditional headgear. The General was not a fan of elite units within the Army and sought to water down the significance of the Green Beret for Special Forces troopers and Tan Berets for our Rangers. It is rumored that President Kennedy was stirring under his eternal flame as he was a devout admirer of the Army’s Special Forces trained at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Ft. Bragg, NC. As warriors go, the Green Beret denotes a special kind of warrior that has earned his headgear much as a Seal earns the coveted trident insignia. The decision by Shinseki was subsequently reversed some ten years later. Another coveted hat in the military is the venerable brown campaign hat denoting drill instructors. Folks with a military background all know full well the aura that surrounds this hard earned headgear, specifically the conveyance of expectations that you WILL meet.
A good number of police organizations today wear a campaign hat, particularly state police organizations. Police officers endure many hours of training to earn the hat privilege and generally are considered to be “out” of uniform when they are not wearing their hats while in uniform. There exists much controversy within police ranks relative to the merits or demerits of wearing this headgear, but few can argue the professional bearing conveyed by the presence of a uniformed officer while “under” his hat. Hats that speak are not limited to the uniformed services…
One of my “trophies” is a simple flat brim straw hat that I bought while on an RV trip in Amish country in Ohio. The good Amish people are seldom seen without a covering on their heads, and these utilitarian hats are favored when outdoors working. For most of us, the appearance of one of these hats instantly conveys an impression related to a strong work ethic as well as an appreciation and adherence to Christian principle. You will seldom have occasion to question the Christian ethic of a person under this straw hat.
No treatise on hats would be complete without mentioning the venerable ball cap, which has been around a long time. Today, the brim of the hat conveys many identities, but one needs to be careful here. A flat brimmed cap, in certain colors might signify something entirely different for a flats fisherman as opposed to a young man in the inner city. Ball caps are intended to be utilitarian, but are often used to confirm one’s identification with a particular group or, as in the veteran above, a military past. A worn, red Dekalb seed cap, with sweat stains and an oil mark where it is grabbed each time it is picked up, worn by a denim and flannel clad man wearing dusty boots, is likely indicative of an individual who knows something about the farming industry.
Folks who are around emergency services recognize the venerable hat worn by firemen as a “leatherhead” now replaced by newer composite helmets offering better protection. Still the shape of this headgear immediately identifies someone associated with the fire services. The same can be said of the helmets worn by motorcyclists. If you think a bit, you can identify folks who value freedom and comfort (minimal skull cap helmets) over safety (full face helmets that are hot and confining). I am not moralizing here, merely pointing out the obvious. I have noticed a direct correlation between motorcyclists who wear minimalist helmets and the use of gloves when they ride. Full face guys are more likely to wear gloves than the minimalist riders, and hands are particularly vulnerable in even the most mundane of crashes. Check this out for yourself.
In summary, hats do a lot of talking about the wearer. A ball cap is almost always resting on my head, usually brightly colored denoting some place I’ve travelled to. My propensity to wear a cap is the result of many years wearing a campaign hat and…….honestly….to cover a head that is hair challenged. Removing the cap to sit down for lunch ages me instantly. 🥴
As you move about in the next few days, watch and see if the hats don’t talk to you!
Have a good weekend.