By Joshua Cohen, from “Hat Lessons Gleaned from Attending a Film Noir Marathon with a Nonagenarian Ex-Milliner Who Never Stops Talking,” a journal entry that is included in Attention: Dispatches from a Land of Distraction. The essay collection will be published next month by Random House. Cohen is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine.
“Twentieth-century men can be divvied up chronologically into two groups: those who wore hats and those who didn’t. Conventional wisdom has it that hats went out of fashion with JFK, who was the first president not to wear a hat to his inauguration. But the truth is that hats were already on their way out under Ike. This was when you had the creation of the interstate system. When Americans started driving lots of cars. You ever try to wear a hat in a car? I mean a hat hat? There’s not enough room. It’s like trying to keep a penguin inside your refrigerator.”
“You can tell when a film was made by how its hero handles a hat. Actors from a hat generation tend to take off their hats on the appropriate occasions, and if they don’t, there’s usually an implication, like an implication of purpose.”
“Whenever an actor from a hat generation sets his hat on a table or a chair, he does so with the crown facing down, so as not to bend the brim. Whenever an actor sets his hat brim down, crown up, I can tell he’s from a no-hat generation, I can tell he’s young, and I get depressed. I don’t like being reminded that an actor’s an actor.”
“Guys on the East Coast called the two frontal concavities of a fedora the pinches. Guys on the West Coast called them the dents. My brother, my eldest brother, who lived in Chicago, he called them dimples.”
“Fedoras for the good guys. Derbies for the bad guys and comedians. Though comedians wore porkpies too. As did blacks. Homburgs were worn by the other ethnics, mafiosi, and Jews. Cowboys for the cowboys.”
“I don’t know anything about women’s hats. All I know is, any woman wearing a fascinator is guilty of the crime of redundancy.”
“The wind would’ve blown that straight off.”