It seems only yesterday that ten-gallon hats began to pop out of the crowd like umbrellas in a spring shower. Western felt hats. Western suede hats. Hats with feathers and without feathers. Hats creased and uncreased. But all with brims like a ranchhouse porch - all big enough to hold water for a party of four crossing the Painted Desert.
And now they're disappearing, as suddenly as umbrellas when the sun comes out. The urban cowboy is an idea whose time has passed. Biltmore Industries Ltd. , the largest hat-maker in Canada, has gone into receivership, placing the blame on the collapse of the western hat market. New York stores report sales down 80 percent.
The word has been pronounced from Park Avenue to Rodeo Drive: flamboyance is out, elegance is in. The mannequin of the urban cowboy has been usurped by that of the dandy, favoring the '20s style of ''Chariots of Fire'' and ''Brideshead Revisited.''
One will no longer dress to ride the bull at Gilley's, like John Travolta. One will dress to stroll the cobbled streets of Oxford, like Anthony Andrews. In argyle sweaters, herringbones, and thick Irish tweeds, one will bundle up as if for the English climate, boxily assuming what tailors know as the English drape. Even at picnics one will wear rugby shirts and boaters and what Esquire calls ''regatta-striped array,'' as if one were punting on the Thames, instead of western shirts, jeans, and $285 Tony Lamas boots, as if one were galloping to a roundup.
At least that's the uniform for now. But next year, doubtless, there will be another movie, another costume ball, and that knowledge makes this year's fashion wilt a little, even before the pinstripes are fairly creased in place.
Ah, trends! Ugh, trends!
The American male, looking at the fringed buckskin and denim-everything hanging in his closet (with a special corner for--remember?--the ''preppie look''), must marvel at the discontinuity of his masquerades. But the worst thing about trends is not that they are so changeable but that they have so little to do with true change.
A lot of the wranglers who wore studded belts, heavy-heel boots, and tooled leather jackets described themselves as ''sensitive'' and ''consciousness-raised.'' A lot of the dudes in Burberrys will be properly described as ''macho.''
What do these on-and-off costumes have to do even with other trends? The affluent urban cowboy drove European or Japanese sports cars and drank bottled water that came a long, long way from the lonesome prairie. The man who may yet replace the ten-gallon hat with the ultimate homburg will carefully unbutton his double-breasted jacket in order to play PAC-MAN.
If one were to follow all the trends (and we're talking just about men's fashions) one would be a paddle-ball-playing participant in the Mahler revival--the proud possessor of a wood stove and a Chesterfield coat with a black velvet collar. And what does that make anybody?
The popular way to play a trend is to rush so fast to the front edge of the wave that you leave the impression--you hope!--that you're the original. You just happened to feel like cutting your hair short and wearing white flannel trousers and this amusing little cashmere vest while stir-frying your vegetables , and here are all these other copycats following you. Too tiresome!
The irony is, of course, that the motive in the heart of every trend-chaser is to be different. A trend consists of mass uniqueness.
At any rate, for the rest of 1982, we're staying ''out of it'' - just as we did in 1981. This is getting to be our trend.
Being ''out of it'' can be embarrassing at the height of a trend. But that's nothing to the embarrassment of having been part of a trend - after the trend has passed.
After all, what does a poor chap do with an old ten-gallon hat?