Sunday, May 29, 2011

Appropriately Priced Product Pick of the Week

Tilley hat. I never thought I would ever buy a Tilley hat. I'd seen them in stores before but never looked at the price. They were always situated, say, between Orvis fly rods, which I did know the price of, and woolen dog mattresses, which I also knew the price of because I looked at the tags. I could interpolate from that the price of the Tilley hats, and I would no way in hell ever pay that much for a hat. And so it was a process. I was aware that another company, Outdoor Research, made hats out of Gore-tex which were quite spendy. Well, a friend of mine, about the most non-pretentious, down-to-earth person in the world, was wearing one at Canoe School this year. "Nice hat!" I said to him. "Thanks, it works great!" was his answer, explaining perfectly how this humble man could spend so much on a hat; he valued the functionality of the hat as much as some others value the brand prestige, and he was willing to pay for that functionality. That was a month ago. Yesterday I was at Pack Rat looking at hats, and I actually tried on an Outdoor Research Gore-tex hat. I was really looking for something more lightweight and breathable; I just wanted to see what a $55 hat felt like on my head. And let me tell you, it felt damn comfortable! But not for me. I tried on about ten other hats and none of them were any better than the sun hat I already had, a Patagonia that was just tight enough I had to wet the nylon headband and stretch it over my knee to get it to fit without pinching my forehead. The next size larger was too large and the adjustable hats are all bothersome because they can never be adjusted exactly right. If I had an adjustable hat, I would need to stop five or six times every mile of hiking to adjust my hat, just like I adjust my shoelaces. My urgent, existential need to constantly adjust things is no doubt related to my recently discovered autism, which has become my new excuse for everything. It explains every shortcoming. Like no doubt it is a sensory issue related to my autism that causes me so much discomfort when I wear a hat that doesn't fit exactly right. Anyway, at least I broke through the barrier which had in the past always prevented me from even trying on a $55 hat. That was yesterday. Today I went to Lewis and Clark, which is another semi-upscale outdoor retailer, a notch down from the Pack Rat because they generally stay away from the really exclusive brands and carry some quality, functional products of less expensive branding. That's why I was surprised to see a rack of Tilley hats by the door. You won't find an Orvis fly rod or a wollen dog mattress within twenty miles of the place! But there were some Tilley hats. I looked at the price of one of them. Having just tried on a $55 hat the previous day, I was prepared to at least try on a $76 hat today, just to see what a $76 hat felt like on my head. Looking at the rack of hats, I quickly realized they are sized in eighth-inch intervals instead of the typical small-medium-large scheme used by lesser brands like Outdoor Research. The 7 3/8 size felt damn good! It felt good enough that I actually untied the sting meant to go beneath the chin and the occipital bone to secure the hat in strong winds. The winds here, save the odd tornado, do not blow strongly. Removing the string is something I ordinarily would not do unless I felt it was at least somewhere within the realm of possibility that I would buy the item. Without the string it felt really damn good! Not ready to make the purchase yet, I removed the four-page owner's manual and the eight brag-tags (more later) from the pocket of what I learned was called the crown of the hat. I then looped the string such that it would fit the periphery of the pocket and stuffed it neatly into the pocket so it would ball up in the middle. I tried the hat on again with the emergency wind string stowed away and it still fit great and was very comfortable. Still not ready to make the purchase, I stepped outside along with a sales attendant so that I could experience wearing the hat in direct sun, not that I would ever go out into the bright sun but I was trying to maintain the illusion of being an outdoorsy person to the salesperson who obviously was one; I was in an outdoor retailer, after all. After that, I was sold! And the hat was sold, too! Notice, though, that I have not commented on the appearance of the hat. This is, of course, because of the lesson I learned from my humble friend who had bought the less expensive Outdoor Research hat, that the underlying justification for such a purchase was the functionality of the item rather than the looks of it, or worse yet, the empty, unsatisfying, and false feeling of brand prestige, as if its value comes from other people rather than from the item itself. That said, I think the hat looks damn good on me! I'll tell you one thing for sure, though: I will not undermine the functionality of my new hat by reinserting the plastic baggie containing the eight "brag tags" back into the pocket in the crown. That means whenever someone compliments me on my hat I won't be able to pull out a brag tag showing some customer testimonial about Tilley hats on one side and the contact information for Tilley hats in ten languages on the other. Instead I'll just say, "Thanks, it works great!"

I don't go outside much but I love to wear my very functional Tilley hat while I'm reading on the internet about people who do. With my new hat on it feels like I'm really out there!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations with the marvelous hat purchase (and the story). I was in the museum of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec a few days ago and saw a painting of him by Vuillard with a nice (sily) hat. See

In a fit of Lautrecian madness, I wanted a hat like that! I went to the hat store on the corner, but they didn't have one. Then again, I'm afraid I'd be too cheap too, to buy one of those new.

Your theory of sitting behind the computer screen and imagine you are doing the things you see is very intruiging! Yes indeed. Hey Dave, glad to see you back in action.


Dave Renfro said...

Thanks! I remember the dude you photographed on your last trip with the hat, a pack, and a moustache. That hat was pretty kick-ass too, just like mine will be after ten years of wear or so. I think I will never have that face, though.

Seriously, as a hiker I maintain always the desire to go trekking in Nepal--the Annapurna Sanctuary seems like a good choice--just like everyone else does. But secretely, I tell you that I quietly fantasize about a trekking return to East Africa somewhere. I was just a dumb-ass kid like all the other dumb-ass kids when I was deployed to Somalia in '93, too young and stupid to really appreciate the place. I missed out on a Kilamanjaro trip later, when I was stationed in Egypt (A round-trip ticket from Cairo to Nairobi was like $400 at the time) but my old man got cancer and I used up all my leave going home. Now I'll long overdue to visit my wife's folks in the Philippines so my trek to Ethiopia may be a long way off. Sure would be fun, though!

Cheers, Martijn!

carl duewall said...

Do they sell men's clothing where you bought that hat? And I didn't realize that beer was all they sold
at Whole foods. HaHa. You are my friend and ally!

bulletholes said...

I hear the Sudan is nice this time of year.
Great post Davy!

Anonymous said...

I remember the guy you're talking about: the Kevin Cline type. Funny you remember!

Never mind. I admire your hiking courage greatly. I'm not so much afraid of a little walking with the weight of a small elephant attached to my back, but I fear the being stranded somewhere on foot and getting a bad case of the Desparation. My car has often been my hide-out, shelter, rescue crew.

I hope you see Africa one day!