Hats optional

By Connor V. Gottfried

Imagine you are out for drinks with your closest friends. You are caught up in some interesting conversation, when all of a sudden you are approached by the manager of the establishment and told “You aren’t welcome here.” “Why?” you ask. “No hats allowed. Take it off or leave now.”  

Discrimination against hatted people is a sometimes funny and a sometimes serious issue. The above situation happened to me recently at the 100th anniversary of the Grand Theatre. The manager went on to say that my toque looked “ridiculous” and that it was “a high-class establishment.” I wonder if they would have asked U2’s The Edge to take his toque off.  It struck me as ironic, given that 100 years ago those who did not wear hats were the target of discrimination. Back in the early 20th century, hats were considered to be as necessary as shoes. In the zenith of men’s hats, the 1920s, a dress code book of the time states that “not one man in 10,000 would risk being the butt of ridicule by failing to conform and wear a hat.” A fixture in men’s wardrobes and a monitored social convention, the hat told people who you were. Top hat, boater, toque, beret, stetson, beetleback derby or snap-brim fedora, back then, without a hat you were a hopeless nobody. In Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, Magwitch is “a fearful man” because, among other things, he is “a man with no hat.” In Lord Dunsany’s 1914 play, “The Lost Silk Hat,” a gentleman locked out of a house is panicked: “I must have my hat. I can’t be seen in the streets like this!”

This was certainly not the first time I have been asked to remove my hat. There still seems to be a perception that a hat signifies disrespect towards some individual, group or God, rather than a freedom of expression and individuality. When I was in high school, my friends and I fought for our right to wear hats, going so far as to stage a protest complete with signs that read, “Toupees are hats too!” I even owned my own Icelandic toque company for many years, and am well known for always wearing a hat (if only if I had a dime for every time someone said “I have never seen you without a hat.”) I have removed my hat in certain situations out of respect when it was requested, but I have yet to hear any truly good reason why I should take it off.

Once the manager realized I was going to stand my ground and not remove my hat, a man who said he was the owner of The Grand personally came over and told me that I had a choice: “Take your hat off or leave now.” We gladly left. On the way out, we made sure to tell the hatted people in line, patiently waiting to get in, that hats were not allowed. A number of people immediately got out of the line (one they had invested at least half an hour in) and walked away. I guess I am not the only one that refuses to support an establishment that tries to tell me what I can or cannot wear.

But this type of discrimination is more serious when religion is involved. If the owner of an establishment demands that a Sikh remove his turban or a Muslim remove her burqa, the humour quickly disappears from the situation, and the establishment in question becomes subject to the scrutiny of the media. I fully support the right for a Sikh to wear his turban, but I also request this same respect for my choices in what I wear.

While the toque is not welcome in many clubs, American and French revolutionists used the toque (borrowing from the icon of the liberated Phrygian slave) as a symbol of freedom. The French called the hat “bonnet de la Liberte,” and the Americans called the toque “The Liberty Cap.” The toque was later a rallying symbol for the 1837-1839 Patriotes Rebellion, in which French-speaking citizens from Quebec fought against British rule. The control the North Korean government exerts over its people was evident at the recent outdoor funeral service for the late Kim Jong-il, where, despite freezing temperatures, no hats were allowed. Dress codes in night clubs are often not enforced strictly, but it seems that the dress code gives management an excuse to selectively discriminate, turning only those people away who do not fit their particular mould. We later found out that even the headlining dj wore a hat that night.

One hundred years ago, hat etiquette was surprisingly complicated, but everyone knew the rules. No other article of clothing was more donned, tipped or removed depending on the time of day, day of the week, the type of event, whether the National Anthem was playing or whether a woman was present, and heaven help you if you ever showed the inside of your hat. The use of the hat by men represented a whole code of respect. Hats went from being mandatory, to falling out of fashion (John F. Kennedy’s habit of not wearing a hat was seen as the final blow for hat wearing), and now hats are making a comeback. There must be a time when we question the relevance and value of old customs — some serve a strong social purpose, while others we just do because those that came before us did. Even a spokesperson for the famous etiquette institution, The Emily Post Institute, says it is now okay for a man to wear a hat at a bar or nightclub as part of his style. But despite acceptance by some, the hat renaissance is creating a quandary for a generation who grew up without any hard and fast hat rules. So we are making up our own rules.

It is especially poignant that the incident at the Grand Theatre occurred on the 100th anniversary of the building. In the first half of the 20th century, it was unthinkable to go out without your hat. Who knows, the day may not be far away when the bouncer demands: “And where is your hat?” George Carlin put it best in his comedic rant about hats: “What possible relationship exists between the uncovered head and a feeling that ought to live in your heart? And what is so bad about hats that you have to take them off? Why not take off your pants? Personally I would never want to be a member of any group where you either can’t wear a hat or you have to wear a hat.”

I agree with Carlin, regarding hats there should be one rule and one rule only, hats optional.

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