I Bought a Hat

Reinventing myself. A struggle with perception.

I have a complicated relationship with clothing.

I grew up in a family that had zero interest in appearances and mostly dressed us in the cheapest things available. There might be some perverse nobility in that but I do not recommend it for social, personal or professional development. Maybe it’s superficial, but clothing is an inherent part of non-verbal communication. What you wear says something, whether you or want it to or not, and creates an impression. I feel like I should have tackled this issue 35 years ago.

While I don’t get the sensory sensitivity issues often associated with ASD and clothing, I realize I am just constantly vaguely physically uncomfortable in most of the clothes I own. There might be two things that actually feel good, one being a tuxedo I have worn only a handful of times. Mostly I just accept clothing as being mildly irritating and a necessary evil.

The more complex issue is I have no physical perception of myself. The guy in the mirror is a complete mystery to me, an alien and an imposter. He never feels like me. He never looks like I think I should look. Sometimes he plays dress up, but I don’t buy it. I am never able to perceive him as looking good.

The upshot of this is I’ve never taken much interest in clothing, never mind fashion. I had period in my late teens and early 20s when I became so disgusted with constantly faking being normal that I switched to wearing all black. It was armor and a statement. It said “I refuse to pretend to make the rest of you feel better”. It was also a challenge that anyone who wanted to get to know me would have to work at it. I wasn’t going to be an easy target.

All that calmed down after a while, particularly as my personal circumstances improved. In general, though, I find my physical appearance baffling and I have no idea what I want to communicate with it or how I would do that. This has become an issue lately, as I work to reinvent myself and take a stab at getting more of what I want out of life.

So I bought a hat.

It’s a black Stetson “gambler’s hat”. Soft wool. Unbelievably comfortable. Great for keeping the sun out of your eyes if you’re outdoors on an iPad.

Yeah, I am trying to look like something out of an old Clint Eastwood movie. But I live in the desert, and I own a horse, so why not?

The Riddle of the Hat is it’s unusual, very visible and obviously a choice. If I wear it, have to own that. Putting it on becomes a statement and question of identity that I usually avoid dealing with. It’s a challenge to myself to feel comfortable with that.

This is not the first time I’ve challenged myself in this way. Twelve years ago I did it with a motorcycle. I’d been interested in motorcycles since I was a kid, but my parents didn’t approve. That meant I had to ride my friends’ bikes without my parents finding out. I got a license in my 20s after a cold and rainy week of training east of London, but I left England shortly afterward and never bought a bike. That didn’t happen until more than a decade later.

Riding a motorcycle is also a public statement, whether you intend it to be or not. It’s an obvious choice; something unusual that many people would consider questionable. You don’t ask anybody’s permission. You don’t expect approval. Actually, you don’t expect respect or consideration or understanding. Riding is a social statement and a choice people will make you own.

Although with a motorcycle you’re in a helmet, so you start anonymous and armored.

The hat is a challenge to myself, to own my choices publicly, be different and a little bold and comfortable with that. Which eventually needs to go somewhere beyond hats, but this is fine as a start.

It absolutely scares the hell out of me.


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