Occasionally someone asks, usually with a snicker, “Why the hat?” I have a library of ready answers. Some of them true; some for my amusement. Just living in the Rio Grande Valley is reason enough. Most people I know own hats, though most only wear them at the island or going country western dancing. And a hat certainly looks more macho than carrying an umbrella, even when the temperature is 105. My favorite response is to solemnly tell them that I contracted a rare and fatal disease during my travels in Outer Mongolia which can only be controlled if I avoid direct sunlight. I know that I have kept my voice at just the right mortician pitch if the conversation is completely stifled at this point—and they don’t notice how thoroughly ridiculous my answer was.
It occasionally troubles me that cowboys, (defined in this case as someone who wears western boots and a western hat) are never asked “Why the hat?” The Stetson on their head is so much a part of who they are that no one thinks to ask, whether they’ve ever punched a doggie or not. To put it another way, wearing a hat is part of their uniform, which in turn, is part of their identity.
Cowboys know that there is something about wearing a hat that connects in some primordial, and admittedly childish, way with our inner caveman. Wearing a hat makes you feel, for lack of better terminology, all cavemany.
Sometimes, in a fit of overzealous intellectualizing, I subscribe to the Peacock Principle. (Called the Peacock Principle because of the peacock’s feather display, limited only to the male of the species, and according to biologists, evolved for the sole purpose of attracting the female of the species.) The Peacock Principle says that men dress up to impress women. The other side of the theory, which I guess we might call the Pea Hen Principle says that women, far from dressing up to impress men, actually dress up to impress each other.
Don’t buy it? When men get together to watch Monday Night Football, how many show up in old tee-shirts and paint-spattered jeans? No women there. No reason to wear clean clothes, or unfortunately, use deodorant. Women, on the other hand, go to a bunko party (I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure what that actually is. The term isn’t on google, and I’m not brave enough to go to one to find out.) It doesn’t matter to women (the ones who go to bunko parties) that there are no men around. They wear their best, their newest, their most expensive, even their sexiest, clothes. They don’t care that we’re not there. They are only interested in one thing—impressing each other.
While women have given themselves over in abandon to the Pea Hen Theory, most men find it difficult to get in touch with their inner peacock. Some so suppress their inner peacock that they suffer from the Peacock Syndrome (a corollary to the Peacock Principle). In order to get a chance to “dress up,” something they’d never do on their own, they join the military so they can wear fancy uniforms—a tactic that lost much of its appeal when red topcoats and brass buttons were replaced by khaki and camo.
An alternative, and one that doesn’t involve vacationing in the Middle East, is to join a Mariachi band. Have you ever noticed how satisfied those guys look? They get to wear brightly colored clothes, so many brass buttons they go down the pants leg, and a really huge hat. What could be better? The only drawback, of course, is that you’ve got to learn how to play the accordion.
The rest of us (who have no real gift for the accordian) sublimate our need to dress up (it’s just not manly). Unable to find a reason that our wife or our boss will buy for wearing pants with brass buttons down the pants leg, we look for ways to get in touch with our inner peacock without loosing our last vestiges of cavemanness. Our need to dress up and the opposite need to be manly comes to the head in odd ways, such as wearing hats.