Hats With Pomp And Silliness

It is one of the oddities of hats - those strange pseudo-garments with which we humans delight to alter the silhouette of our heads - that the ones that go out of their way to be silly are not nearly as silly, in fact, as the ones that go out of their way to be important, official, and solemn.

Hats, like humor, ought to almost occur by mistake. Try too hard to make them happen, and they just seem contrived. A hat that is really absurd is one that has arrived at its ill-considered shape because it is being asked to perform a function infinitely more significant than a mere hat on a head could possibly perform.

This could be why hats that act as badges of office are often so sublimely daft. They are hats that transform and define the person: Put on a sailor's hat and you become a sailor; a mortarboard and you are an academic; a crown and you are a monarch; a bowler and you are either a comic or an old-fashioned businessman. The intention out of which such hats are born really has nothing at all to do with hats, as such, and even less to do with humor. That is how silly hats are made.

I don't know who invented the busby worn by those man-sized toy soldiers who, to the fascination of countless tourists, perform the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I wonder if the guards who sport those tall furry beehives don't have to undergo hours of humorless training to control the giggles that must well up in their breasts when they first don their fluffy creations at dawn each day.

There is another military-hat affair that comes to mind also, which is almost as disarming. It is the one that has a peak that descends very close to the forehead right down over the eyes of the chap underneath it. I suppose this helmet purportedly offers some kind of visor-like defense. But no soldiers could possibly go, or have gone, into battle with this on, could they? How could they see which direction they were heading?

Crowns, too, are hard to take as seriously as they should be. There is a wonderful film of the present British sovereign being crowned at her coronation. At such a momentous moment, the one thing that should definitely not tempt the observer (or participants) is a fit of the chuckles. But I cannot watch it without being grasped by a terrible sense of impending cachinnation. The incalculable significance of the occasion only seems to make it worse.

The archbishop seems to take forever to bring the crown to rest on her head. A peer or someone in the background clearly thinks so too, since he is not supposed to put his little lightweight crown on his own head until the queen's has firmly landed on hers, and he keeps almost beating her to it and having to hold back.

A terrifying prescience occurs to one as the crown still hovers above the royal hair: What if it should miss? What if it proves too heavy, and the almost-queen's neck sinks Titanic-like into her shoulders? But all is well - and at last the ultimate hat event has happened. Her Majesty seems to wobble slightly under the impact, but she is then all dignity.

It's a stunning business.

One second this good person is hatless and almost one of us. The next second she is be-hatted and is the queen.

What extraordinary powers are given to hats.

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