Out Of The Past 1


November 14, 2008
8:45 AM CDT

Oh gawd, here he goes agaln, banging on about the decline of civilization…

I know, I know. And yet, this piece by Tom Utley struck home:

The more I have thought about it, the more I believe that the urban male’s decision to abandon the hat — taken en masse on both sides of the Atlantic in the middle of the last century — is one of the most inexplicable phenomena of modern history.

I could have understood it if neckties had disappeared. They are a perfectly absurd adornment, serving no practical purpose but to attract egg stains and keep us feeling uncomfortable around the neck at the height of summer. Oh, and a lot of them are a great deal more expensive than the average hat. But the tie remains with us and it’s the hat that’s gone. Why?

Actually, I think that the disappearance of men’s hats is quite simple: JFK refused to wear them—who knows, maybe he knew that he looked like a total dweeb compared to other politicians of his day, most of whom, like Ike, looked as though they’d been born wearing them.

My beloved grandfather wore one all his life—I think he’d have gone out without a shirt before leaving off his hat—and had, as I recall, at least four: a selection (black, grey and brown) for “dress” (i.e. work, to match his suit of the day, and the black only for funerals), and one or two for “casual” outings (to work in the garden or to take fishing). Of course, he also always wore a jacket and tie when he went out, even if he was just going to visit friends, or going to the supermarket. Utley again:

There’s also something about hats — perhaps because they remind us of a past and gentler age — that seems to encourage courtesy and civility. The rituals of removing them indoors and raising them in greeting or deference to a woman seem to shape their wearers’ general conduct throughout the day.

Yup. That’s as good a reason as any why men today are slobs, and especially so towards women. The net result is boorishness, in appearance, speech and behavior. (Richard Littlejohn hates that, too. He’s talking about Britain, but we’re not far from that in this side of the Pond, either.)

In the pic which accompanies his article, Utley looks quite debonair in his new hat, although he could have tightened his tie, to avoid the Mike Hammer/Damon Runyon disheveled look. (And I understand his comment about ties being useless and impractical—I just don’t agree with it.)

I think, as I get older, I’m going to start wearing a jacket and tie every so often. I know I’d look better than I do now, and most of all, I’d feel better. (It’s the same reason why soldiers have “dress” uniforms: it’s impossible not to feel proud about yourself when you’re smartly dressed.)

I bet that if we all did that, the national civility level would improve—and that, my friends, would not be a Bad Thing in these, the waning days of our republic.


For my Murkin Readers, the title of this piece is Cockney slang for a hat: “tit for tat”, ergo “titfer”.


  1. “I think, as I get older, I’m going to start wearing a jacket and tie every so often.”

    On a tangent…as I close in on the big 7..0.., I have been thinking of something I came to many years ago. That older men should not have facial hair. An eon ago after watching Henry Fonda as an old guy in full beard and Clark Gable in his post WWII films, I realized the beards and big hairy lip only served to make them look 20 years older. So recently I have trimmed back. Full Duck Dynasty beard gone. To a small goatee and close cropped head hair (what remains of it). Just my take on things…

  2. The public attire of most people today is appalling. My wife and I were lunching at a brand new Texas Roadhouse the other day and a horde of construction workers plopped down a few tables over. Muddy boots, filthy garments, all sorst of head gear including those hideous do-rags and everyone of them young and old instantly pulled out their phones.

    Texas Roadhouse should have charged each of them a $10 maintenance fee and then knocked 10% off the bills of all the other customers within 20 feet of them filthy animals.

    FWIW, Way back when I worked for years in concrete and masonry construction in the Fort Myers, Naples, Florida corridor and it never once occurred to me to drag my filthy ass into a sit-down restaurant for lunch. It was simply not done. That’s why they had Maggot-Wagons and Roach Coaches visiting major construction sites.

  3. I’ve got a small pile of hats and caps of various kinds.

    Several “felt” brimmed hats (fedoras mostly) for winter/cool weather wear, three different straw hats (although one is a Stetson Gambler Seagrass, which is more a cowboy hat) for summer, and three or four “driving caps” because brimmed hats suck in cars with the sorts of seats that protect your neck properly.

    I also like to dress well when going out. I really want https://www.allenedmonds.com/clothing/mens-clothing/sport-coats/the-freedom-blazer-by-southwick/SF1014569.html?dwvar_SF1014569_color=1014570#start=1 but my job isn’t real stable right now, and I’m not sure I should spend the money.

  4. Around 40 (fiveish years ago) I started wearing a jacket whenever I left the house. It generally improves all your interactions with people, both ways. It helps to have some very casual jackets (like today’s unlined linen sport coat — this is Texas) but even over a t-shirt, it makes a huge difference.

    I also have a handful of hats that I used to wear more, but have gotten out of the habit of wearing. A nice panama, an alpine, etc. All worn unironically. (I would certainly approve of a driving cap when actually driving, though.)

    Unless you are actively working a trade, always wear a jacket. Wear hats (not caps). Stop wearing sneakers. Carry a pocket knife. Anything less is childish.

    1. Part of the problem with “always” wearing a jacket is that today it’s hard to find some of the types of fabric that make wearing a jacket in summer weather tolerable.

      I have a nice sport coat that I got off Ebay maybe 12 years ago, a Samuelsohn in a fresco weave that despite being midnight blue is fairly comfortable in warmer weather. Is it is getting on in years, and is starting to get worn out, I went into a local haberdasher that carries that brand during a trunk show and was told that that particular fabric was no longer available.

      I’m considering either the afore noted Southwick sportcoat, or https://www.haspel.com/collections/seersucker-suits/products/midnight-seersucker-sportcoat

  5. I loves me my hats: Pamana, floppy fishing, ushanka, straw hat, beanie. But I don’t ordinarily wear a hat, only if the situation demands it. And that means being outside. A hat, to me, is a protective device. As an article of clothing, they’re a pain: when you go somewhere you have to take them off and store them when you go inside and for the short trip between the car and the door, they’re not worth it.

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