Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A proper hat

Years and years ago I worked as a waitress in downtown San Francisco, in a restaurant that catered to the business crowd. Every day a bevy of young secretaries and receptionists would step up to the podium to confirm their lunch reservations and Frank, the maitre d', would escort them to their tables.

San Francisco is usually chilly and these young women did not want to hide their stylish dresses and suits under sweaters or coats so they'd fold their arms across their chests to keep themselves warm. Shivering, they'd shuffle unsteadily across the room atop three inch heels, bobbling a little like penguins. It seemed unprofessional to me to wear three inch heels and not be able to walk in them properly. I was determined to do better, and I did. It didn't take me long to learn to glide smoothly across a room, to walk up the steep San Francisco stair streets, and to even run a short distance in them, but even I could not walk down the hills in heels. It's bad physics. I would take them off and walk barefoot. It seemed something Holly Golightly might do while saying something offhand and clever.

All these many years later I live in the desert and the thought of walking in sand in high heels is flat out funny. It should probably be a race at the county fair. I'd pay to see it.

Now I'm telling you all this because it came to mind when an acquaintance gave me the side eye about my cowboy hat. Of course there are very few cows out here, and certainly no real cowboys, but this is the west and the cowboy hat is a western hat.

Last year, when we first arrived, we bought the same expedient hat that everyone buys from the Valero gas station - the big straw garden hat with the security strap and the drawstring bead. It served its purpose but one year later the brim is starting to tear off. It does not seem particularly suited to the landscape. I decided this year to invest in a proper hat, a serious, no-nonsense hat, and I chose the hat I'm wearing above at a western store in Phoenix.

The reason it reminded me of my experience with high heels is that you also have to learn how to wear a cowboy hat. If you're self conscious in it, you might as well go back to the Valero.

It's windy out here and my cowboy hat has no security strap, no bead to draw the string through, no training wheels, so right out of the gate that hat expects something from me. How do I keep it on my head?
  1. I bought a hat that fit - this is no one-size-fits-all nonsense.
  2. I wear the hat low and snug on my brow, not pushed back like a beauty queen.
  3. I've learned to tilt my head into the wind so the hat won't blow off.
My little sister, wearing her
cowboy hat professionally.
I've learned to wear the hat professionally.

A cowboy hat is practical and in that sense it fits the landscape. Because the sides are higher my peripheral vision is preserved, and I can hear better. The big drooping brim on the garden hat cuts the sounds and makes it impossible to see to your side without lifting your head, not the best option when drinking with the other animals at the watering hole.

A garden hat is on again off again. You can't wear a garden hat in town. Well, you can. People do, but it's not professional. It's only because they don't have the confidence, or haven't been here long enough, to wear a proper hat.

The cowboy hat hearkens back to another time. When I was a kid my sister and I wore cowboy hats every day. So did my grandpa. It's nice to be back in a desert with a good hat on my head. The desert is not so much about who or where you are as when you are: and when an acquaintance questions your decision to wear a cowboy hat, you've got to have the confidence to re-evaluate that relationship.