Hats change the look of its wearer, changing his or her visual personality. Originally, hats were the way a regular Joe kept the sun out of his eyes and the rain off his head as he tried to make a living in this world. Let's get something straight before we begin: This is not about baseball caps with beak pulled backwards and over ears. This is about real hats -- things with brims that go all the way around--like men wear, or used to wear.

Before 1960's, everyone wore a hat. It was in the early 1960s that things went wrong: President Kennedy was bareheaded at his inauguration; the Beatles showed up flaunting their locks. The rest is history. With a new season on its way, it's time you wised up. Remember what your father knew: As much as 80% of the body heat that you lose in cold weather goes off the top of your head. In the Summer, you can just about bake your head with the sun beating down on an uncovered head (not to mention the sun in your eyes).

Hat's can vary in price from $40 all the way up to $400. Too much? You spend $100 on a pair of shoes. How often do you think that people look at your feet before your head? If you take care of it and you stay out of the way of bullets, a good hat will last forever.
Good hats to buy

The good felt ones are made of fur, often a blend of farm-bred rabbit, wild hare, and beaver. The hairs are shaved from the pelt and sent through a series of baths in very hot water and, at the same time, forced together under great pressure. Fibers have barbs, and as the fibers shrink, the barbs cling to one another. The result is a sturdy felt. Beavers produce the thickest and softest hairs, so the more of their fibers in the mix, the smoother the felt to the touch, the tougher against a cold rain--and the more expensive the hat.

Wool felts are made of just that, wool from a sheep. Wool felt used to make hats is thinner and stiffer than the wool material used to make coats and blankets -- it has to be (so that it can keep its shape).  Wool felts are warm, and crushable. That is, if you take your hat off and stuff it into a briefcase, then pull it out later, quickly straighten it back out, and it looks as good as when you bought it.

Another material, used in Summer hats, is straw. Now, we aren't talking about Farmer John with his straw hat chewing on some hay, we are talking about Humphrey Bogart with his sharp straw fedora. These hats can easily run up into the $300-$400 range. They are just that good looking (not to mention they are expertly made by hand)! These keep your head cool, and the sun out of your eyes in Summer.

The felt hat industry in the U.S. is still alive, thanks largely to Westerns. The largest manufacturer, Hat Brands of Garland, Texas, owns the Dobbs, Resistol, and Stetson brands, and makes a full line that includes fedoras. Walk into a C&W bar anywhere and watch the cowboy and cowgirl wannabes stride onto the dance floor underneath their Stetson Ranchers and Tanya Fes. Cowboy hats are bigger and heavier than fedoras, and so are their prices. A top-of-the-line Rancher retails for about $1,000.

Lock & Co. of London sells proper and handsome fedoras for up to $185. Borsalino of Italy makes sexier ones with more sensuous lines for up to $300. Approach a Borsalino carefully. A few years ago the Italians licensed a U.S. company to make an inexpensive line. I'll level with you: a cheap line. The agreement ended, but some of those inferior Borsalinos may still be on shelves somewhere.

Most salesmen don't know anything about hats, except for those who work in the few top-quality shops. So test the quality yourself. Put one hand inside and pop the crease out. Spin the dome against the palm of your other hand. If the felt bites, drop it. It should be as smooth as a baby's behind. The inside band ought to be sewn in, rather than glued. And before you buy the hat, grab the salesman by the collar and ask him whether the store will clean your hat when it gets dirty, because if you hand it to your dry cleaner, he'll pretend he's never seen a hat before.

A hat is supposed to fit all your dimensions, not just the circumference of your skull. The taller you are and the heavier your face, the higher the crown should be, the wider the brim. Unfortunately, hatmakers have disappeared, even from New York, Chicago, and other big cities. A couple of pros in the West make beautiful cowboy hats, but Garth Brooks is not me.

Tips on Hat Care
To protect the brim, put the hat away upside down. Rain won't destroy the shape of a good felt. If it's drenched, pull the inside band down and stand the hat on it, at room temperature, not near heat. Even a good hat might shrink a little, so have it stretched every now and then.

Finding Your Hat Size
In the hat shop, the best way to determine one's hat size is to try hats on until they fit. In lieu of this, the next best way to determine your hat size is to let "someone else" measure your head with a tape measure. With a tape measure, measure the circumference of your cranium to the nearest 1/8 inch. Measure just above the ears, and across the middle of your forehead.

Many years ago, American-hat sizes were standardized to avoid confusion in the industry. The formula decided upon was based on "pi" (3.14159). To convert from inches to your hat size, simply divide inches by pi.

Hat Sizes Of Famous Folks
6 7/8 - Henry Ford
7 - Thomas A. Edison
7 1/8 - Abraham Lincoln
7 1/4 - Dwight D. Eisenhower
7 3/8 - U.S. Grant
7 1/2 - J. Edgar Hoover
7 5/8 - John F. Kennedy
7 3/4 - William H. Taft

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