I call this time of year the pale month. The doors have closed on the majority of our hunting seasons and ice fishing opportunities can be hit or miss. This is the time I usually relegate myself to organizing equipment, which means discarding items I no longer need or want.
Last week while starting this annual task, there they were, glaring at me, large cardboard boxes holding back hundreds of hats. Ball caps as I call them. Most were gifts, a few were purchased and some were given to me as participation trophies for winning 10th place at Saturday night bingo. Regardless, there were more than I could ever use.
Normally some are passed on as gifts throughout the year or given to family and friends. Even that does nothing to keep the continually growing number in check. Some, after seeing years of abuse, get discarded. But there are a few that will always stay with me, regardless of age or condition.
I think hats have been around since Adam wore a crown of leaves. I’m not sure of their actual origin but ball caps are as common as bread and milk, crossing all boundaries of race, age and socioeconomic statuse. Everyone has at least one.
Hats are worn for various reasons, including protection against weather conditions, safety, ceremonial and religious reasons or as a fashion statement.When it comes to hats, the styles are endless, from boonies to bowlers and turbans to top hats. Fashion trends change direction with each passing year but one item of clothing that has endured the test of time is ball caps. I doubt they will ever disappear from our sartorial landscape. To hunters and fishermen they are a staple and are considered an essential piece of clothing.
All sportsmen wear caps. Many couldn’t conceive taking to the woods or water without one. The styles with solid panels help keep our noggins warm in the winter. Mesh panels protect our heads from sunburn in the summer. With a tip of the head the bill shields our eyes from sun and glare.
In addition to their main purpose, some wear ball caps because of their unique fit, logo or what they may represent. Some view them as a moving advertisement. Then there are those who maybe haven’t showered in weeks and use the lid to hold back a head of unkempt hair.
There is even more to it than functionality. Hats are like trucks or significant others. Our relationship solidifies with time and shared experiences. They continue to improve with creases and stains caused by dirt and sweat. Besides holding back the weather they also house memories.
I never really considered hats as a fashion statement, rather a tool. But many, including myself consider a few special lids as sacred objects. There are some earned during younger years representing special sporting achievements. Even though they have not or will ever be worn again the trash pile isn’t considered. They will stay at the bottom of the box in a partially disintegrated pile of foreign fabric.
Then there are a few hats deemed “Lucky.” I don’t know exactly what it is but some seem to bring extra luck, whether pursuing wild game or fish. Do they actually influence success? Probably not, but what they do harbor is an emotional connection. These too will never be discarded.
Wearing a new lid is like donning brand new Carhartt outerwear, still clean, crisp and a bit uncomfortable. Time and use is what makes them feel good. Jeans can now be purchased brand-spanking-new already faded, prewashed and even ripped. Hats are no different. They come “distressed”, already sporting small tears in the brim, looking like they’ve seen years of use even though they have never left the store shelf.
For the crowd I run with social capital is measured by experiences. All those stains and rumples kneaded into a hat are physical proof of our active involvement in the things we love. The threads holding everything together are the stitches of time we’ve spent in the woods, water or working. And when we wear our special hats it’s like we are sharing those experiences with an old friend.
As the years pass and fashion trends continue to evolve one thing will remain constant and that’s the popularity of ball caps. They will always serve as a sign of our belonging, just like calloused hands and maybe a little sunburn.