On My Bowler Hat

I’d be the first to tell you that my fashion sense at times is eccentric. Generally I keep to things that are utilitarian, and I think it shows I was dressed by my Midwesterner father. When I go dancing, though, or when I am at certain formal occasions, I will don my bowler hat.

No, it’s not a fedora, and no, I always make sure it has a proper ensemble with it; I loathe any association that headwear has with people of poor hygiene and poor style. Hell, when I go dancing I make extra preparation to make sure I am presentable.

My current hat is an English import, sized to my rather large head; my mother sat me down and ran a measuring tape around my head to make sure it was right. It has a feather in it, or more properly four feathers in it wound up together, one red, one green, one yellow, one black with white polka-dots. It has a brim that curves upward on the left and right sides.

My love affair with old-fashioned hats began when I had to go to an academic conference at The Plains, Virginia, in a rich part of Fauquier County. I was at a horse race, and the emails told me to have bowties and race hats. I bought a cheap clip on bowtie; I had wanted a ‘real’ one but those were all rather expensive. Similarly, I bought a dirt-cheap hat that still had good reviews. The company was called ‘Elope,’ which in retrospect makes me question their intentions.

I had no intentions of using my hat for anything really hoity-toity until I was due at a ballroom dance and realized that I could be daring and flamboyant by waving it around whenever I did any number of grand, bombastic moves. I thought myself genius then, but I think that somebody must have had the idea before. Nay, several people. But nevertheless I did so and found it quite fun. Even now the surprised laughs I get from my partners I consider one of the little joys of ballroom.

And so I’ve worn it to nearly every dance I’ve gone to since. Some people say I look eccentric when doing so, especially in conjunction with the broader ensemble. And they’re all right. Bowler hats went out of style in every way except at Ascot and similar occasions before my parents were born. I look like a dandy, and not only that, but a dandy displaced seventy years from his own time.

But I’ve embraced it. My father is fond of telling me that “nobody becomes less eccentric as they age.” I may be young, but I have become more eccentric than I was merely four or five years ago. I suppose it’s part of the natural process of change, but I doubt my father intended the adoption of decades-old headwear.

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