We’re in an avalanche of media coverage of men who wear dresses and beanies. The cardinals of the Catholic church have hiked up their robes and headed for Rome to elect a new Pope, who will have earned the right to wear the trendy and embarrassing red Prada loafer. Actually, the Cardinals are meeting at the Vatican, called the Holy See, where nobody does.

I have no objection to men wearing dresses and fancy hats, except for the corollaries.

For instance, in societies where men wear dresses, often called holy vestments, and affect headdresses that are only for the chosen few, someone is getting the short end of the stick, usually women and the poor. One day it’s hats and dresses, which are fine, but pretty soon, the garments are considered sacred and a symbol of power. And in most cases, women, who actually look good in fancy hats, are not allowed to wear them.

I’m thinking of native American flowing feather headpieces, Jewish kippahs and yarmulkes, Catholic zuchettos (sort of like beanies and similar to yarmulkes) and Mitres, (which can be adorned with flowing ribbons like May queens). Also the turbaned Sikhs. And let’s not forget the fun Fez, worn by Masons and Shriners. Or the camauro, a red velvet cap edged with ermine, worn at non-Church functions by the Pope. (What non-Church function calls for a velvet cap edged with ermine?) Maybe on his day off with sweats?

I believe there is currently a heated debate among hipsters about whether it’s sacrilegious to affect native American headdress. Of course hipsters think not having read Bukowski is sacrilegious . . .

Another corollary is that in societies where men wear ceremonial garments, the women must cover up. I’m thinking of nuns’ unwieldy habits (mostly gone in the U.S.), tichel headscarves and wigs for married Jewish women, and the hijab for Muslim women, all of which are low on the elegance scale and I’m guessing hotter than hell in the summer.

We Americans are not immune. Think of the films noir of the thirties, with just the right fedora, worn at all times, shadowing the eyes, a favorite of well-dressed gangsters like Al Capone and my distant cousin Spike O’Donnell. Fast forward to today’s would-be gangster, wearing the omnipresent baseball cap askew at angles that I’m guessing are significant, and with or without a layer of head wrap underneath, and all often covered with the scary hoodie.

There are two legitimate reasons for men to wear hats: for protection from the sun and for protection from the cold. There’s no need for hats in religious, civil or social organizations, although I guess the police and military need them for identification and just to look “spiffy.”

As for me, I love a big straw hat in the summer, but I just feel safer and on a more equal footing around men without hats. And if they’re old-fashioned enough to take off their hats indoors, I’m in seventh heaven.

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Mary Kay O'Grady

Mary Kay O'Grady is a former high school English teacher and later owned her own public relations business, The O'Grady Group. She has lived in Oak Park for almost fifteen years. She is currently the chairperson...

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