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Gabi Menashe
The hat man cometh
Abramoff scandal shouldn't keep us from wearing hats

I've been known to wear a hat or two. I once picked up the sobriquet, the Hat Man, after appearing on a TV show with a hat on. But I had a practical reason behind - or should I say beneath - that: the TV appearance was outdoors in Albany, New York, in the dead of winter, and it was cold. In fact, I have not understood the contemporary disparagement of hats simply because I find them so practical, not to mention stylish. Which is why the current clucking over disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's hat is problematic.

 

For those who have had their heads in the sand - or their hats pulled down over their eyes - Abramoff is the former American lobbyist
who recently pleaded guilty to several charges, including attempts to influence the political decisions of politicians in Washington, D.C. He's also an observant Jew, and the combination of being Jewish and wearing a black fedora during his "perp walk" has gotten a lot of people talking. In fact, Orthodox Jews are quite concerned about Abramoff's behatted appearance. They are worried about the fallout of this equation: Jew + money + backroom influence + sleazy dealings + black hat = bad for the Jews.

 

There has been speculation that Abramoff was consciously trying to play the religion card by wearing his hat. I take the opposite stand. Few outside the Jewish community even realized the black fedora was code for religious Jew. If you didn't know, Orthodox Jews of all shades wear what I call a Model-T hat: available in any kind of style and shape, as long as it is black.

 

I think Abramoff wore the hat to avoid being seen in an even more Jewishly revealing black kippa. How else to explain a previous court appearance in a baseball cap? The hat was a plea for support from the Orthodox community, but was literally a cover-up for the non-Jewish world.

 

Nonetheless, even people who didn't get the Jewish reference should have been clever enough to catch the black hat image (He wore a black trenchcoat, too. Who is his image consultant, anyway?).

 

The Abramoff episode may set back the cause of hats just as they have been climbing out of a decades-long trough. Look at any photos from the 1930s or 1940s, and you will see that virtually all the men - and many of the women - wore hats both for practical and stylish reasons.

 

My grandmother had a remarkable job in the 1920s: she traveled to New York regularly to memorize the stylish looks of women's hats in upscale department stores and then to design cheap knockoffs that then were manufactured in Brooklyn's sweatshop factories.

 

But the social upheavals of World War II brought about a more casual style, and John F. Kennedy's infamous hatless 1961 inaugural appearance in bitter Washington weather (JFK did have great hair, and a size 8 head that was hard to fit) just about did hats in.

 

Later in the 1960s and 1970s luxuriant hairdos (bouffants, Afros, shags and ponytails) made hats impractical. Only the Orthodox - men and women who kept their heads covered for modesty and piety - kept the hat business going during these uncovered times.

 

Hats have made something of a fashion comeback in recent years, albeit more frequently in the form of baseball-style caps and hip-hop stocking caps. A rash of head-covered men and women in recent films has had something of a positive effect, as well.

 

Nonetheless, a thoroughly unscientific review of the streets of New York City in recent days, as well as an ongoing review of the non-Orthodox world of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, suggests to me hats are still a ways from dominating the majority of heads.

 

Now we hat wearers will have to suffer the opprobrium of being linked somehow to the black-hatted Abramoff, and the practice may suffer again.

 

I brought the same hat that made me the Hat Man in Albany to Jerusalem when we moved there six years ago.

And I joke that it is the only fedora in Jerusalem that isn't black. It's a practical, stylish and snazzy chapeau that performs essential functions. It keeps me warm in the winter, and the snap brim keeps the rain out of my hair, neck and eyes. I'm not giving it up even if the Abramoff scandal sets back the wearing of hats again.

 

Alan D. Abbey is the founding editor of Ynetnews.

His email is alan@abbeycontent.com

 

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