Odd or historical detritus washed up on the beach of Woody LaBounty's consciousness
This 100-year-old headline is certainly fresh-feeling, and likely always will be.
(Francesco Nitti was the former prime minister of Italy and criticized the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, noting in a series of articles the resulting "revival of old and new nationalisms, of old and new hates." He got out of Italy before World War II.)
Vin and His Dog House
I grabbed this screen shot of Vin and his dog house off eBay a number of years ago (I was outbid.) I haven't been able to figure out which block it is, but sure looks like a Sunset District street. Any ideas? Start your Google Street View searching.
I like Vin's hat, which got me thinking...
My Life in Hats
“I didn’t recognize you without your hat.”
It’s a common observation I receive from acquaintances at events if I’ve checked my fedora. Wearing dated headwear means one’s face becomes forgettable, diminished in importance and therefore in remembrance. My father always used to say I looked good in a hat. He may have considered my face improved by distraction.
I think I purchased my first gray fedora at a touristy hat store at Pier 39. Around then I also bought a trench coat with lots of buckles at a men’s store on Market Street. As my karate-instructor-father was teaching me a staff kata around that time, I also could be seen lugging a long wooden pole around. So it was some combination of Humphrey Bogart and Caine from Kung Fu that slouched around the UC Berkeley campus in the fall of 1983. That’s college for you. At least that’s my assumption of what college is from the one year I spent at it before being expelled for low academic achievement.
The fedoras stayed with me when I moved on to being a street-performer at Fisherman’s Wharf. It worked well for gathering a crowd because a guy carrying three machetes on the street is crazy, but a guy carrying three machetes on the street wearing an old-timey hat is obviously a juggler. Along with suspenders, fedoras were generally popular with buskers of the era, notably Harry Anderson. I used to watch him do his thing in Ghirardelli Square before he went on to play a comic grifter on Cheers and then, strangely, a fedora-wearing judge on Night Court. (To be clear, I was no Harry Anderson, but a dabbler. Ten dollars in quarters would've have been a great day for me.)
The young guy wearing a hat in sitcoms and teen movies is the goof, the wise-cracker, the comic relief. He’s also usually the sort of annoying person who will never have a girlfriend or, if he does, gets the waif-ish space-case or dumb blonde character. As I was attracted to smart brunettes, fedoras likely held me back. Not that I didn’t have plenty of other reasons to be unattractive to the opposite sex (see “street-performing juggler”).
Because this is where I was in my life in the early 1980s, I made a serious pitch to owner Michael Harris at Paul’s Hat Works to teach me how to block, clean, and make hats. I would jigger around my part-time hours as a busker at the wharf and clerk at Waldenbooks and serve as his apprentice for a very modest hourly wage. I was surprised to learn from Michael that millinery and haberdashery weren’t growing industries and he couldn’t take me on. Somehow, someway, Paul’s still exists out on Geary Boulevard, run by Abbie Dwelle.
Getting a good hat is difficult. I have a very large head and discerning taste. Usually brims are too short, the material too cheap or informal. If it’s something a professional athlete wears with powder-blue shorts and flip-flops at the beach, it’s not for me. You’ll never see me in a derby, which apparently are only made for small pugnacious men, just as homburgs are only worn by stout banker-types or Winston Churchill. Don’t blame me: these are the rules made by popular culture of a century ago.
As for double-breasted suits, watch chains, and zoot suits, all have attractions, but I mostly resist going full costume with my wardrobe. My inner embarrassment meter begins to wiggle on the red line just wearing a fairly standard suit with a fedora. When decked-out in such manner and old guys I pass on the street nod appreciatively—“Looking sharp, big man.”—I’m on the edge of my comfort zone.
But the tall guy in the hat is remembered, so whenever I desire people to pay attention I make sure to wear it. When sharing history, a throwback look helps people get into a look-back frame of mind. I also think the fedora makes me seem more accessible and less of a history professor. People recognize me out walking and say hello. Drivers give me a honk and a wave.
At some point the hat did its work too well. In my casual-day look of a Giants cap and layered plaid shirts, I am unrecognized. No one waves or honks their horn. Woody is the guy in the hat. Steve is the guy in the Giants cap and flannels. (How I ended up with two names is another story.)
I know fedoras aren’t coming back. It’s me, jazz musicians, and actors in gangster movies. But there is some hope: my daughter, now 25, looks pretty good in a hat. So we’ll see…
Paul's Hat Works
Listen to Abbie Dwelle talk about her venerable and possibly now unique San Francisco institution in the Richmond District on this Outside Lands San Francisco podcast from 2019.
Don't Be a Sucker
Not San Francisco-related really, but this 1947 educational film put out by the United States War Department has some great hats. (And advice surprisingly relevant these days.)
That's it for now. Get outside and go for a walk!