Why is it highwaymen and pirates alike are so disarmingly dashing? We all know they’re naughty men, yet their allure be not thereby diminished. Similarly; why is unhandsome Fred Astaire the most elegant gent to have ever tapped a toe on a studio floor, and Audrey Hepburn the most graceful pauper to ever totter into Tiffany’s? And why did people trust Chamberlain when he declared peace for our time, even though by 1938 any half-intelligent six year old would no more trust Hitler at scrabble than in international diplomacy? The answer is: all these people wore hats.
Will such fine dash, such sophistication, such willing good faith in naïve politicians ever be seen again? Probably not, for the world lost a little of its colour and the everyday a splash of vital zing when hats were thoughtlessly expelled from the wardrobe of obligatory wear. The 1960s bequeathed to us a lot to be thankful for, in its music, activism and liberal counter-culture; yet I cannot forgive it for being the decade which allowed headwear to slide from the status of a clothing item as essential as knickers to one whose appearance elicits almost as much surprise as a person striding down the street in knickers alone.
Personally, I love hats. And in a week that saw Tom Daley come out as gay and Nigella Lawson come out as a cocaine user, that has to rank as one of the least-surprising surprise revelations of all, yet nevertheless, it deserves repeating: I love hats. I believe people, as a collective and individually, look better hatted. And I believe that were headwear still de rigueur, the world would be a slightly better place, and her people slightly more polite. It stands to reason. On the one hand, one’s patience in trying situations lasts longer if one’s ears are not uncomfortably chilly, and on the other, donning a hat offers a far more certain means of drawing instant respect from a stranger than meeting said stranger with a bald pate. Unless, of course, the hat being clad is the ridiculous baseball cap.
These are not recent inconsequential reflections, but firm convictions of several years’ maturation which have inspired me, over the course of that time, to wage a one-woman war to bring the hat back. At its simplest level, this mission requires me to wear my cloche hat every day throughout the winter months (that is, from September through to June). This is neither a burden, nor, as some have suggested, an act of bravery, but in fact a signifier of cowardice; for I realised some time ago that my head simply looks better with something on top of it, and have hardly dared leave the house with crown exposed since. Other manifestations of my mission have included vainly encouraging colleagues to become a hat-wearing workplace by pointing out how nice the hat-stand looks when put to its proper use, generously offering my hat for trial-wears at parties, and nodding comradely to fellow hattees. As well as, of course, buying lots of hats.
Last week, however, I took my mission one step further. It was high time, I decided, that I personally increase the number of hats in the world. I therefore bought a crochet hook and two balls of unostentatious purple yarn and last Monday set about making a hat for the first time.
Which might not have been so difficult, were it not also the first time I had ever tried to crochet. And indeed, learning to crochet might not have been so hard, were I capable of following picture guidelines. As it is, I spent the first three evenings of the week struggling to add loops to an increasingly tight, inflexible, and diminishing chain of yarn that soon barely fitted a doll’s head, let alone mine, before packing the whole thing in, moving to my second ball of yarn and starting again on the Thursday. On which lunchtime I was told by a colleague who spied my nascent efforts in the staff kitchen that I was doing it completely wrong, and no wonder it looked shambolic. So, I unravelled my ten minutes’ work and started again; only to be asked that evening by my house buddy why I was crocheting lines to make a square when surely spirals to make a tube would be easier. After stubbornly continuing with an increasingly lopsided square for a few more hours, I admitted she may have a point.
So the next evening, Friday, I rummaged deep into my first ball of yarn to find the end I had not already begun crocheting. I pulled this out, and began again, determined to persevere this time, as I must if the hat was to be finished by week’s end. This time, things began smoothly. Thanks to my colleague I was crocheting correctly and thanks to my house chum I was improvising an easier pattern than the internet had proffered me. And thanks to my exhaustive practice of the previous five days my pace was (I thought) relatively quick.
However, it turns out that pulling out the yarn’s end from the centre of a ball provides not a shortcut to a fresh beginning but the misleading start to a long, agonising, winding route to the finish. For in the process of pulling the yarn out, the ball fell into several clumps. And in the process of taking the yarn in and out of my bag while on a train, the underground, another train, and a bus on the Saturday, these clumps became hopelessly entangled. With the consequence that by the time my yarn and I were finally stationary at our final destination, I could no more crochet a hat with it than build a submarine.
Yet I was never one to be defeated by my own incompetence. Determined to make a hat should I lose my eyesight, fingernails, and will to live in the process, I sat up late into the night unpicking what to my strained patience looked increasingly like a clump of dead spiders. It was not until the Sunday afternoon that I could finally recommence crocheting proper, though at least by that stage I found the crochet work itself a comparative doddle – a respite even.
Eventually, a day behind schedule, I had used up what I could salvage of both balls of yarn, and found myself with what looked remarkably like a hat. A convincing, fit for service, not-too-shoddy-at-a-cursory-inspection hat. Albeit a hat that was too small for my head. For as I crocheted away into dimmest night, and my sympathy for the blind tapestry-making nuns of Flanders grew, my hat’s circumference shrank beneath my hands.
I would therefore like to offer the first product of my hat-making career to any friend of mine with a small bare-headed child. Which, on reflection, is a surer way of promoting hat-wearing than wearing the thing myself. Because aside from the fact that I would look like a fool wearing it, it’s good to start the kiddies young. I have a fancy now to make many more little hats, and plop them onto the heads of unsuspecting passing infants; for if all children are indoctrinated at an early age with the notion that it is utter depravity not to wear a hat, perhaps in a generation’s time hats will again be in their proper place: upon every adult head.