For a number of years I’ve watched people wearing ball caps turned backward and sideways, nobody raising an eyebrow. I’m not sure why they do it because the purpose of the visor on a ball cap is to protect the nose from Old Sol’s battering. But I gradually began to wonder if people just didn’t know which piece of a hat is the front, which is the side, and which is the back.
Eventually I decided to perform an experiment. I carefully selected a hat for my next trip to town, determined to wear it backward all day, seemingly oblivious to that. I wanted particularly to corner-of-my-eye observe the reactions of people wearing their ball caps backward and sideways.
My findings weren’t ambiguous. From my first stops of the day I saw that people of every age and gender did double-takes, then attempted to surreptitiously call the attention of someone else to the fact I was wearing my hat backward. If they had no companion they’d nudge a stranger to share it. Not once did anyone sidle up to me and whisper, “You’ve got your hat on backward,” as they’d have done if my fly was unzipped.
If I’m wearing a hat when I eat in town I usually take it off a moment while I briefly acknowledge gratitude. On this occasion the hat was on backward when I entered and took my seat, ordered my food and waited to be served. The café was well populated and though I pretended to be reading I observed the hat was a subject of notice and concealed, smiling discussion at almost every table.
When the food arrived, after the waitress left, I removed the hat and bowed my head a moment, then replaced it, facing forward. But, pretending to notice I’d put it on forward, I took it off, looked at it, then turned it backward again on my head, and began eating while still occupied with my book, watching the other patrons.
This brought giggles and laughter, even among those wearing ball caps turned backward and sideways.
My conclusion from this study is that people don’t know what is the front and what is the back of a ball cap, but they do know the front from the back of western-style headgear. I believe the findings are important enough to justify more in-depth study by PHD candidates in anthropology, sociology and fashion.
This is Jack Swilling, founder of Phoenix, Arizona, who died in prison awaiting trial for homicide. He was posthumously acquitted. However, Swilling’s hat is the issue here. There’s a bullet hole in it, and it’s been ripped almost in half and sewn back together. Swilling’s hat could be worn backward, forward or sideways and nobody at all would allow himself to notice.
Here are some other examples of non-ball caps that might be worn backward without concern:
Manny Gammage of Texas Hatters made this hat for me in 1971, or 1972. The style was dubbed The High-Roller.
Here it is today with the original Mystic Weave band Manny put on it when he made it. I’ll leave it to your judgement and the judgement of the PHD candidates whether it ‘works’ backward.
Other possible backward hats:
This pic was taken around 1976 worn conventionally.
Here’s the same hat today, backward. Your call.
Straw John B. Stetson backward.
Felt John B. Stetson backward. These last two and the next one are hats I inherited from dead men sent me through thrift stores and flea markets and arranged by the Coincidence Coordinators.
This one is Guatamala palm leaf bought for a dollar in a thrift store. Maybe the best straw hat ever made.
Backward’s not much different.
This is a Tilley, the best canvas hat made anywhere. It can be worn backward or forward without fear.
This is a Tilley knockoff. Can’t be worn backward or forward with pride.
Gale gave me this dead man hat he picked up somewhere. Here it’s worn backward. You can just never tell.
Carl Sandburg, Hats:
HATS, where do you belong?
what is under you?
On the rim of a skyscraper’s forehead
I looked down and saw: hats: fifty thousand hats:
Swarming with a noise of bees and sheep, cattle and waterfalls,
Stopping with a silence of sea grass, a silence of prairie corn.
Hats: tell me your high hopes.
Carl Sandburg, Hats are Sky Pieces:
Proudly the fedoras march on the heads of the some-
what careless men.
Proudly the slouches march on the heads of the still
more careless men.
Proudly the panamas perch on the noggins of dapper
Comically somber the derbies gloom on the earnest solemn noodles.
And the sombrero, most proud, most careless, most dapper and debonair of all, somberly the sombrero marches on the heads of important men who know
what they want.
Hats are sky-pieces; hats have a destiny; wish your hat
slowly; your hat is you.
Joe Cocker–You Can Leave Your Hat On
Lyle Lovett– Don’t Touch my Hat