Lee Pitts: Flipped his lid
April 1, 2011
I have lived my life under a hat. In my early years I used a ball cap to hide the fact that I was homelier than a pug dog, but now I mostly wear one to cover up my cranial deforestation.
I love wearing cowboy hats but I hate all the rules that go with them. For example, in some states it’s entirely okay to wear your hat at the counter in a coffee shop just as long as you take it off when you sit at a table, but in more eastern locales you are supposed to take your hat off whenever you go inside. Do that in Nevada and they’ll think you’re an uppity snob. My buddy Phil gave me a King Ranch hatband years ago and I love it but if I wear it on my hat outside of the Lone Star State people look at me funny. Even more than usual, I mean.
The hat etiquette I hate most is this hoopla about switching from felt to straw and vice versa. E.C., a man who looks great in a Stetson, says that you are supposed to wear a felt hat from the first of Labor Day to the first of May and a straw hat from Easter to Halloween, and he should know because he’s a purebred Texan. My problem is that I am not good with rules. I can’t remember them and even if I do, I’ve always had an aversion to following them. So I wear a straw hat when it’s hot and a felt hat when it’s cold no matter what month it is.
A lot of common sense is involved in wearing a cowboy hat correctly. Wearing a straw to the symphony while dressed in a Tuxedo is wrong even if it is July, and wearing a felt any time you know you’re going to get dirty is simply silly. I remember one November bull sale where a big-shot politician lived by the rules for once and wore his felt hat. He sat in the front row where everyone could see him and the first bull in the ring that day, who was suffering from gastric distress, hosed down the politico with a watery/hay mixture from head to toe, filling the depression in the top of his felt hat. Talk about a mad hatter! The politician didn’t want to acknowledge this embarrassment so he sat as still as stone for the entire sale because every time he budged a fraction of an inch the brown/green slop would drip from the front of his hat. Knowing how hard it is to clean felt hats and how expensive they are, all I could think of was that I bet the politician wished he’d have worn his straw hat that day. Or else sat three rows back… or not run for reelection.
The other problem with cowboy hats is that they have to be shaped correctly, which I am terrible at. I either look like I’ve been sitting four abreast in the front seat of a pickup with the sides of my hat rolled straight up, or else the rear end of my hat looks like I backed into a brick wall. But I take some solace in the fact that even fastidious dressers can sometimes make mistakes. I recall the time we were at Watrous, New Mexico, for the Doolittle Hereford Sale and the auctioneer was one of the greatest of all time: George Morse. The first time I saw George was at John Wayne’s sale in Arizona and the Duke stood on the auction block behind George as he sold the cattle. I swear, if you didn’t know any better you’d have sworn that George was the Hollywood star. The problem that day in Watrous was that George Morse, the cattle industry’s best dressed man and all-around classy gentleman, had his hat on backwards and he was the only one in the crowd who didn’t know it!
Who were we mere mortals to tell George Morse that his hat was cattywampus?
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About half way through the sale George took his hat off to scratch his head and discovered the fashion faux pa. But he didn’t flip his lid. Well, I guess in one sense he did.
You have to understand, for a cowboy, having your hat on backwards is like standing there with your zipper down. That’s why these days I mostly wear ball caps because if I get one on backwards people just think I’m a baseball catcher, a welder or just trying to be a cool teenager. And I can shape a ball cap a lot better than I can a cowboy hat.
I suffered a similar fate as George did one time at a bull sale when a man came up to me and said my cowboy hat was on backwards. I immediately turned it around and he took a longer second look. “On second thought, maybe not,” he replied sarcastically.