Old Hats

Description of an old hat I lost a few years ago: It was a forest green baseball cap made by Nike, part of a series of gear they used to produce based on legendary playground basketball sites, for instance The Cage on West 4th Street here in Manhattan, Rucker Park in Harlem and Wilson Park in Compton, California. Each one had a distinct graphic identity. My cap recognized St. Cecilia’s gym in Detroit with a simplified graphic of the church’s facade, the words “St. Cecilia’s” stitched below it. “3 Detroit” was embroidered on the back next to the velcro strap used to adjust its size. I loved that hat in all its detail, in all that it conjured about a dank, musty gym housed in a church, but other hats have come into favor.

I’ve had my Kangol fisherman’s hat for almost 10 years. It’s the typical tan colored bucket hat with a big brim and a dark red and blue ribbon around its base; it’s my preferred rain protection over umbrellas. The hat’s been crushed into bags and suitcases, left in my car for weeks, drenched in torrential rain, nearly blown out of my reach, and baked in the sun all over the world. It’s a formidable hat that shows its age and battle scars better than the young show off markings of youth.

I’ve collected a couple of free hats since working at the Museum of Chinese in America. One was left on one of our common tables along with other discarded office accessories. An abject sign grouped them together with “FREE: Please Take By 5pm Today or They’ll Be Thrown Out.” It was a black baseball cap with orange tiger stripes embroidered on the bill and on its side, framing a tiger head image with the words “Chasing A Legend” underneath. Nobody really knows the back story to this hat, but one of my co-workers surmised that it might have been made in honor of the Flying Tigers, a crew of Chinese American air force pilots that fought in World War II and who hold their annual reunion at the museum.

That turned out to be false, but I did get an authentic Flying Tigers reunion hat just recently from a co-worker who couldn’t stand me wearing the tiger striped one and claiming it to be the real thing. This cap features a much more subdued, eloquent design befitting its honorees – a navy blue cap with a round royal blue logo featuring a full bodied tiger with a red and white star above it. The words “WWII Veterans” are stitched in yellow thread above it and “Chinese American Combined Reunion 2011” flank it. It is unspectacular, but has a grace and restraint that most commemorative hats lack. Nevertheless, stylish types and guys that know hats appreciate both of these pieces.

I wear my Oakland Raiders cap on fall Sundays while watching their games and in the winter I throw on a dock worker-style wool knit hat. I’ve lost two of these in the past month, such is the fate of hats constantly being taken on and off during the day. I used to wear a Houston Astros cap because its logo was a large white “H” with an orange star as its backdrop. Hats get better with age and when you lose them, you remember them well. But you also realize: they’re just hats.