Sweaterin’ to the Oldies

It’s that time of year again, when the weather gets colder so people spend wads of cash on frivolous things. Unrelatedly, I was recently invited to an Ugly Sweater Christmas Party, and since I don’t own a sweater that I or my wife considers ugly, I needed to buy an ugly sweater. Thankfully, America has never passed up on an opportunity to make some money, so there’s an entire subsection of the fashion industry devoted to selling “ugly” Christmas sweaters. And I am all for that. I think I’ve already written about how I’m a highly suggestible individual and if you can dangle something shiny enough in front of my face, I will attempt to buy it. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be all that shiny. It does, however, have to make sense.

And many of these “ugly” sweaters do not. Allow me to contrast two examples of ugly Christmas sweaters that are available now for you to purchase on the World Wide Web.




Both of these sweaters will show up as a result of a Google search for “Ugly Christmas Sweater.” But oh, all sweaters are not created equal. Take the first example. It’s a Cleveland Indians ugly Christmas sweater that I purchased for a friend a year ago. Notice the unnecessary and random mixing of patterns, the incredible busyness brought on by the jam-packing of trees, shapes, and logos, all rounded out by the near constant shifting of color so that the eye receives not even a moment’s peace. This truly could be described as an “ugly” sweater in the truest sense of the word.

The second example features two reindeer in the midst of sexual intercourse. This is not an ugly sweater; this is an unsettling sweater.

Because at its core, the ugly sweater idea feeds off of the illusion that the sweater you are now wearing, though ugly, could at one point have been worn in sartorial seriousness by your grandmother. I cannot picture many grandmothers who would wear a sweater decorated with two reindeer in the throes of carnal passion. And also, I don’t want to. The pinnacle of ugly sweater fashion is a sweater that your grandmother could see you wearing and describe you as looking “swell.” It is not one which would prompt your grandmother to ask, “why are Dasher and Dancer are making whoopie?”


Head Garnish, Part 2: This Time It’s Presidential

Last time, I wrote about hats and made the bold and some might say unsubstantiatable claim that JFK killed hats. The fact is that JFK did not wear a hat to his inauguration. Another fact is that he was the first American president not to do so since there were American presidents (except maybe George Washington, but I think he got off on a technicality because a wig could be considered a very hairy hat). Fact three: the American hat industry began to decline shortly after Kennedy’s inauguration.

So here’s what we’ve got:

  1. When presidents were wearing hats, the American public was wearing hats
  2. When JFK stopped wearing hats, the American public stopped wearing hats
  3. ERGO, JFK killed hats

So we’ve proven that JFK killed hats beyond a shadow of a doubt. But that’s not really what I want to focus on. What I’d like to posit instead is that hats killed JFK. Because here’s some more knowledge:

  1. JFK did wear hats before he became president
  2. While JFK was wearing hats, no one assassinated him
  3. JFK stopped wearing hats
  4. While JFK was not wearing hats, someone did assassinate him
  5. ERGO, JFK was assassinated because he stopped wearing hats

“But Kevin,” you might say. “Why would someone want to assassinate a president just for not wearing a hat?” To you I would reply, “Who are you, and who let you in here?” And also, “Follow the money.” (I know, it’s the wrong presidential conspiracy movie, but I’ll take what I can get.)

You see, hats were (and in Brooklyn still are) big business. When JFK decided to take on Big Hat by brazenly deciding not to wear one, he was thumbing his nose at one of the most powerful industries in the country at the time. Hat money built this country. Look at any old-timey footage of a crowd of people celebrating some big event: look at what they’re tossing up in the air to demonstrate their jubilation. Hats. Now that’s the kind of ubiquity that can line a lot of pockets. So many pockets, that you need to sew on more pockets. And more pockets. And more pockets; until pretty soon you’re wearing some kind of pocket-covered utili-kilt garment. And men wearing cash-filled utili-kilts do not like to be undercut by some Masshole politician who couldn’t find an R in a word to save his life.

But wait. Ask any conspiracy theorist, and he (it is invariably a “he” for some reason) will tell you that the people responsible for offing Kennedy were the Military-Industrial Complex. It was a bunch of military big-wigs. And why would they care if JFK’s outrageous breach of fashion decorum led to America ditching the hat? Because it turns out that the military is pretty big on hats, so big that they even have their own special hat, called a helmet, that they make all their soldiers wear. And how were we going to win a war against the Reds if all our soldiers took off their army hats? Especially since the Russians were known to be developing a missile at the time that was capable of locking onto exposed sideburns.

They then enlisted the aid of Lee Harvey Oswald, who was all too willing to help because his receding hairline gave him a personal stake in the preservation of hat culture. After Oswald had done the dirty work, it appears that he, perhaps overcome with grief over his heinous crime, rethought his stance on hats. This can be seen from the fact that he appears in his mugshot hatless. The pro-hat conspirators felt understandably betrayed and had him silenced by Jack Ruby–who, in the iconic photo of his murder of Oswald, IS WEARING A HAT. I rest my case.



Head Garnish, Part 1: Doffering

You’ve agreed to meet a friend for coffee, a friend whom you haven’t seen in some time. You’re excited, but cautiously so. Who knows who this friend has become in the intervening time? Has he gotten really into composting? Is he going to want to talk the entire time about some trip he took to Barcelona? Has he become a beer snob? Has he stopped drinking? Has he stopped showering? Has he embarked on some sort of elaborate revenge plot to extinguish everyone from his past that he’s found a reason to dislike? And then you see him as he comes into view walking toward you, pushing through a light crowd as he does. And it’s worse than you could have feared–he’s become a hat guy. He steps jauntily toward you wearing what is very obviously a hat and very unfortunately a fedora. The ensemble he has chosen to pair with his fedora is a t-shirt and shorts.

You’ve experienced this, or if you haven’t, you’ve woken up in a cold sweat reassuring yourself that it was just a dream, by the grace of the Almighty, just a dream. Hush now, my terrified soul, all is right with the world. There’s an inherent stigma with a man that’s chosen to become a hat guy, to walk the path of the haberdashered. Which is a real shame, because hats are objectively–when considered outside the context of douchebags in “Tag Out” t-shirts–pretty classy and well-crafted pieces of apparel. But that’s the thing: you can’t just put a classy thing on your head and expect it to make you respectable regardless of the choices you’ve made from the neck down.

Hats like the fedora, the bowler, and the pork pie were commonly worn in a time when showing yourself in public wearing less than a collared shirt, long slacks, and a blazer left you open to public disgrace and being called names like “crumb bum.” So trying to wear one of these refined pieces of headgear with a t-shirt and jeans is like trying to install a rooftop pool on top of a Quiznos.

And don’t take this as some kind of nose-look-down from a hat pro. I don’t own any of these kinds of hats because I don’t really want to commit to wearing a suit every day. Here’s why I don’t own the following types of hats:

  • Fedora–Unless you’re dressed as well as, better than, or identical to Dick Tracy, you’re not fooling anyone. In its modern incarnation, this hat can be seen worn most often by burly guys at clubs I’m not cool enough to get into or by younger gentleman who just joined their high school swing club
  • Pork pie–It seems like this is the preferred hat of that guy who’s always hanging out in record stores. He’s also constantly correcting people who call his hat a fedora
  •  Bowler hat–It doesn’t seem like this hat gets a lot of play these days. I’ve only seen one person wear a bowler in public; he was at a concert, and he didn’t stop rhythmically jumping up and down from the moment the concert started until it was over. I would love to wear a bowler hat, but I think I’d have to be traveling to an opera, solving a mystery, or standing with an apple in front of my face
  • Baseball cap–I have nothing against baseball caps; they’re not even hats that you have to wear with any specific type of clothing. The only problem is that to wear a baseball cap, you have to convincingly look like you did at some point in the past or may at some point in the future actually engage in playing the game of baseball. I cannot accomplish this
  • Flat cap–Trick question! I actually do own this hat (much to the chagrin of my wife). Most often, it calls to mind an old-timey cab driver or an old Irish man walking along the beaches of Dunkirk. My ancestral link to the latter is probably why I’ve convinced myself that I can pull it off

So where have all the hats gone, long time passing? You can thank one man for their death amongst the general public: John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Next time on Pygmanlion–Head Garnish, Part 2: This Time It’s Presidential.