Charles Nevin: The style police are right - ban the balaclava

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The Independent Online

Making a difference is very much in vogue these days, isn't it? Everybody seems to be having a go, from Halle Berry to Commander Paddick. And, indeed, I am as anxious to make a difference as anyone, even if, sadly, I'm far too tightly buttoned for any public weeping, no matter how much fun it looks. Another problem is that difference making seems to involve quite a lot of suffering and sacrifice.

Nevertheless, I continue to keep my eyes open, even if it's for something that will make only a little bit of a difference, and yesterday I spotted something. Police in Grampian, I saw, have taken against youths wearing balaclavas. Initially, I thought this might be the style police, and, I have to say, it was a judgement I could live with.

Although it's often overlooked amid all that frantic charging and nursing, the Crimea was a bit of a highpoint in British fashion innovation: not just the balaclava, but the cardigan, too, and the raglan. (And, as it happens, the sebastopollover, a groin warmer which achieved only a limited local reclame.)

But while I would not be without any of my cardies, particularly the green one with the leather effect buttons and the suede panels, the balaclava has never really done it for me. It's undeniably effective in striking that note of mystery, but somehow lacks sophistication. Added to that, of course, is the association with heroic failure provided by Captain Scott's patronage, and the effect it provokes when you enter a room. I like to make an entrance, but people flinging themselves to the floor and hiding behind chairs is a little too showy.

It is this latter effect which, I believe, has prompted the police action in Grampian, together with the mystery and the disguise, and what might be termed the Who Dares Wins factor. I shall not weep for the balaclava, but its demise does highlight a pressing contemporary problem, and one where I might be able to manage the difference thing.

It's cold in Grampian. And some terrifying percentage of body heat escapes through the head. It's not that much warmer anywhere else, either, for large parts of the year. And, if not the balaclava, what? The pressing contemporary problem, which I might be the first to identify since writing about it fell out of fashion, oh, 40 years ago now, is that, for men, there is no hat consensus. No policy, not even a first way. The only rule I can remember is that you shouldn't wear a Panama in town until after Goodwood.

Men look silly in hats. Women don't. Another difference. The only man who has ever looked good in a hat is Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Think anyone in a baseball hat, any way. Think bobble cap, think Beckham, Private Pike and Ali G. Large brims: exhibitionists, actors, probably cry in public. And what percentage of men wearing hats are bald? Exactly.

But hats are good for you: heat in, sun off. The only answer is the old way: everyone wears one. But what hat? Bowler, Trilby, Topper? No. I toyed with the idea, tailored for these dangerous times, that we should all wear hard hats at all times. Simple, practical; caring yet macho: ideal.

But then I remembered our proud native headcovering, warm in winter, cool in summer. The flat cap. With or without those hound ear flaps that button on top when not required, very good for Grampian.

How to get it all going? Simple. We have a leader who is a style leader, too. Get him to wear a flat cap. And the rest of the Cabinet. It is, after all, their tradition. Jim Callaghan's just been pictured in one. The left would be delighted. Imagine Stephen Byers in a flat cap: transformed instantly into a man you can trust. It's the covered way. Caps on!