Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Ultimate Dinner Party is Starved for Hats

For images not linked within post, see here, here, and the fantastic Knotts shrine at World of Cheese.

Verbal Croquis' topic for the latest Carnival of Couture: You are throwing a little dinner party in your apartment featuring fashion glitterati, past or present, dead or alive.

At this tear-stained moment, I would invite Sir Don Knotts, Sir Darrin McGavin, and Sir Dennis Weaver (who I'm posthumously knighting) to join me for a very casual supper on a mild night outside on the palazzo where they might discuss as men and actors the importance of headcoverings to characterization in an environment where we all might wear a favorite hat.

Perhaps it's because we've lost such iconic television personages recently. Perhaps it was my previous fashion post referencing Lemmy's hat while making the point about choosing not to treat fine apparel as disposable. I now realize I missed a couple of arguments.

1) My disappointments in the current scene of high-end garment consumers are not just about disregarding craftsmanship or failing to maximize worthy successes through repetition. It is simply that for the wearer, today fashion and style can often be mutually exclusive. Gadfly fashion-switching can't be done by anyone wishing to be considered to have style, because style always reflects a consistent assertion of choice. Anyone ditching their looks daily and wheedling from whatever designer's handy can't hope to create a style. What's hot (or even haute) may never be worn by someone of well-regarded, signature style, but style and not trend is what makes a legend. The styles above are singular, but do you think of them as fashion?

2) There are so many current instances of accessory abuse. Petite, young faces behind Harry Carey windshields of sunglass, tramp's bags festooned with knots and fishooks dragging off their arms while slender legs slog around in wooly mammoth stumps. But other than the rappers who- sorry- frequently look worn by their pimp outfits not vice versa, what has happened to the vocabulary of the fine topper? In the modern era, it's almost a joke, witness the Oliver Twist and endless baseball caps. But why should it be? Has the sun ceased to shine or the rain to fall? All of the men above became famous for signature roles defined, at least in part, by their hats. From McCloud to Kolchak to Barney Fife. The Incredible Mr. Limpet, in a DVD which I heartbreakingly and presciently purchased a couple of weeks age, wears two different sweet chapeau. If Mr. Furley sports a toupee, it's at least a headcovering, and it certainly conveys much about the wearer.

Having grown up in Texas, when buying a cowboy hat, I know that every choice was conscious and meant something. Felt or leather, flat or creased crown, the bend in the brim, what color and material of banding, not to mention after-market feathers and/or pins. The hat was made to last, to reflect and reinforce its wearer, and it telegraphs lots of information to those who read the language. Via Tim Blair, if you want to read about artistry, read about the painstaking detail involved in crafting a reproduction of Kolchak's hat, the Nightstalker.

In the old movies, front brims up indicated youth or goofiness. Guys tilted their brims down to avoid someone, pushed them up in surprise, removed or refused to remove their lids as an indication of how they felt about their company, slammed them on their heads in determination, crushed and threw them around in nervousness and jubilation and rage. Women's hats had veils and feathers. Nora Charles' became the source of jokes in The Thin Man movies. Katherine Hepburn's was functional but bedraggled, telling the hard story of The African Queen. All that fantastic body English and potential for style and expression is gone. Impossible now, when the total picture's forgotten. The camera simply zooms in for extreme close-up while someone blinks. No wonder the canny Madonna's wearing mink eyelashes.

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