Heads and Hats

I’m not a confident hat wearer. I wear baseball caps, and from time to time a brimmed safari hat. I wear a boonie hat while cutting grass. I always feel a bit self-conscious, as if I’m drawing undue attention to my head. I don’t suppose my head is particularly deficient, but I don’t think I’m one of those guys who wears a hat well.

Humphrey Bogart could really wear a hat. John Wayne wore a good hat when charging into a hail of bullets. Lincoln did a good stovepipe hat. The Tin Man had a good, functional lid.

The man in the Rembrandt painting shown above is sporting some kind of fancy hat. This wasn’t his grass cutting hat. All decked out with a plume, this velvet topper made quite a statement. It would have been asking for trouble in my neighborhood (except perhaps for a few years in the early 70’s), but in 17th century Holland, I imagine it was quite the rage.

I can’t help but wonder what it was meant to convey. Prosperity? Authority? Whimsy (there’s that theme)? Surely I don’t know, but it’s clear that whatever the fashion statement, it’s time has long passed. I’m not sure whether to admire or suspect the kind of man that would wear such a thing. It does have a flair, and the guy wearing it doesn’t seem to lack confidence.

Necks and Collars


Here’s another 17th century fashion curiosity: the ruffled collar, or more precisely, a millstone ruff. Did it catch bread crumbs? Support a wobbly head? I suppose it was only for style. It looks so comical by our standards, almost clown-like.

Such an elaborate collar begs the question as to why we adorn ourselves with such flourish? Take the necktie. As an artist I don’t need to wear neckties very often, but when I do, I enjoy them. I have some very nice ties; conventional stripes, solids, small Ivy League prints, geometric. Others are more lively, like my Jerry Garcia ties.

Ascots come and go. They always suggest an urbane demeanor. Old movie stars with pencil thin mustaches seemed to like ascots. The wholesome illustrator Norman Rockwell took to wearing ascots in his mature years. Ascots look sophisticated, I suppose, but I could never wear one.

I’m definitely not a bow tie guy. Bow ties come and go as fashion statements. As I write, I think we’re on the tail end of their latest period of popularity. Some men have worn bow ties for years and do so without regard for whether they are in or out of vogue. I admire these guys because they stay with their look and wear it with confidence. In my opinion there are bow tie men and non-bow tie men, and I’m one of the latter.

Heads and Hair


Back to the head. I was a confident hair man. I started growing my hair longer when I was a young teenager and did not get a real hair cut for over four years. Apparently the man in this painting was on the same schedule. This guy was probably a man of respect, perhaps a burgher or a wealthy merchant. He was not selling tie-dyed t-shirts out of his van.

Hair styles and lengths throughout history are as fascinating as hats and collars. We use our hair, when we are blessed to have it, for saying something about ourselves. Our hair styles convey whether we are alluring or alarming, fun or serious, hip or straight. During my hiatus from the clippers, I sought to convey an artistic outsider attitude. Didn’t I look artistic and outsider?


Think of all the different toppings: hair, crowns, turbans, babushkas, berets, tams, fedoras, skullcaps, boaters, floral wreaths, top hats, coonskin hats, tricorn hats, feathers. None are merely functional. Hair serves a purpose, but we don’t maintain it for that. I, and that guy above me, didn’t grow our hair to provide us added protection. We thought it looked cool.


Jesus told a story about a couple of brothers. One was young and wild, the other older and compliant. The young one ran off to live it up until he ran out of money and wound up hungry, covered in mud. The older one kept doing what he was supposed to do: work hard to prove himself better than his doofus brother. When the hungry, filthy brat returned home, the older brother sniffed with indignation. Their father smothered the bum in kisses, put a robe on his back, a ring on his finger. and gave him some new shoes. Big brother thought this was a crock, but Dad didn’t because he loved them both and was silly with joy that both his boys were back home and safe. He didn’t just hose the kid down and give him a sandwich, he prettied him up and gave him a feast.

Jesus told good stories because he is the author of The Good Story. He loves to make dirty people beautiful. Isaiah, the great prophet, told it like this:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.       Isaiah 61:10