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Being a hat collector, I cannot explain why I waited so long to purchase a Tilley hat. My hat collection includes a red fez, a jester’s hat complete with little bells, a black bowler, a Stetson and other cowboy hats, straw hats, Filson hats, a squirrel fur hat, a really weird hat made from human hair (no, not a wig), watch caps, a Greek fisherman’s hat, a white “dixie cup” sailor’s cap, hats with ear-warming flaps (these are particularly unflattering), wool, cotton and velvet berets, fedoras, and straw hats.
Also on my shelves are a Salvation Army hat, a German trenker hat with feather, numerous caps suitable for speeding along a country lane in a sports car, Confederate Infantry officer’s hat, a hat for one of Santa’s elves and one for Santa himself, Peter Pan’s hat with a long pheasant feather, two Sombreros, an official Boy Scouts campaign hat, a WWII women’s Garrison cap, rain hats with floppy brims, a Musketeer hat with a fluffy white feather, a tall white chef’s hat, and countless ball caps – some with logos, some without. Oh yes, and now a Tilley hat.
About two weeks before I bought the Tilley, I was shopping in a trendy consignment shop and spotted a saucy little straw Fedora with a blue straw hat band woven right into the crown. The hat had no label, in fact nothing inside except sweat stains. I picked it up and tried it on and lo and behold, it fit. Finding hats – especially vintage hats – in my size, which is six and seven-eighths or sometimes seven, is rare. Let’s just say that one size does NOT fit all. I paid the clerk eight bucks, put the hat on my head and sashayed out the door.
I had convinced myself that the straw hat I purchased would be my last. After all, my collection was not as important to me as it once was. I had moved on and hats were, well, passe. Then on Saturday, as I was shopping for .410 shotgun shells at Mark’s Outdoors (having used the last one on the big copperhead in the front yard), I saw it: the Tilley hat collection. Being a hat pundit, I was already familiar with the brand. I knew these hats were built to last a lifetime. I also had a vague sense that Tilleys were somewhat nerdish and being somewhat nerdish myself, I was drawn to the display.
I selected a Tilley hat from the rack. It was light creme color with a not-too-wide brim, which I hoped would not rest mid-ear. Before placing the hat on my head, I looked inside the hat to determine front and back. A large label sewn into the hat’s crown described the hat.
THE FINEST IN ALL THE WORLD
INSURED AGAINST LOSS, GUARANTEED FOR LIFE
(REPLACED FREE IF IT EVER WEARS OUT)
The label went on to describe other virtues of this seemingly miraculous hat – features like UV protection, water repellent, wind cord, et cetera. Then I saw a small brochure tucked under the label. It was the hat’s Owner’s Manual and included the warning to remove before fitting hat. The four-page manual was tremendously informative, providing important details such as “which is the front” and revealing the secret of the secret pocket where one might stow emergency cash or a fishing license. As if this altogether was not enough to convince me to buy, a small sticker on the hat indicated it was a size seven!
I located a mirror in a deserted part of the store and tried on the Tilley. “Not bad, rather handsome,” I lied to myself. (Although I love hats I do not love how they look on my head.) Then, I turned up both sides of the brim using the brass snaps, which “develop a sought-after permanent patina when exposed to salt air”, and swore I would never wear the hat in that fashion unless I was touring overseas.
I cannot recall the exact price I paid for my Tilley. It was several times more than the $8 purchase price of the pre-owned straw Fedora and appreciably less than the Panama hats I recently came across online, which go for up to $25,000. I know. $25,000! So, I paid the clerk a reasonable sum, put the hat on my head and sauntered out the door.
After the shopping trek, I arrived home along the beautiful shore of the Black Warrior River and did what any self-respecting nerd would do: with indelible ink, I wrote my name, telephone number and date on the label inside my new Tilley hat. I tucked my fishing license into the secret pocket, put the hat on my head, adjusted the wind cord, grabbed my fly rod and went fishing.
Now, here’s the part where I explain how my Tilley hat became holy. That day, wearing my new hat and fishing from my kayak, I caught so many bream I stopped counting AND two large-mouth bass, each in the two-to-three-pound range. Yes, that’s right, two bass in one outing – a feat never before accomplished by this bush league yet unapologetic fly fisher.
Inasmuch as I believe that God and spirits dwell in rivers, I also believe in my Tilley hat to be the finest fishing hat I’ve ever owned. And though I may never become a master fly fisher, I will always have a deep appreciation for the magic that lives in the art of the fly and just below the surface of water. Oh yes, and also in my new fishing hat.