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Dear Mr. Smith: Why do hipsters always wear hats?

Answer: Funny story: My mother, who was visiting the big city for the first time in a while a few weeks ago, had lunch in a restaurant on a street of fashion boutiques. "There was the oddest group of men beside me," she said. "They were dressed like nerds, with heavy horn-rimmed glasses and plaid shirts. One had a little mustache. And they were all wearing some kind of hat. But they were talking about making films. They were actually quite intelligent."

Those, Mom, weren't nerds: Those were hipsters, devotees of fashion who want to proclaim participation in an artistic pursuit. But I can see how you would be confused.

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The hats, of course, were keys to this code: A hat is as important to hipster identification as the beard or mustache. It is the most uncomfortable part of the outfit, as it must be worn indoors and out, and even in great heat, so it is the part that demonstrates the greatest commitment to pure aesthetics. It has no function whatsoever except as an indicator of political affiliation with certain neighbourhoods.

The most ridiculously impractical hat is therefore the hippest. And that would be the hipster look par excellence - the wool tuque worn at the height of summer. I saw three of these yesterday: big, bushy, knit wool tuques, usually in black or grey, with a thick mop of hair under them, all on bearded young guys riding old bicycles, in a temperature of 28 degrees. It made me itchy just to look at them. What commitment! The wool tuque might be seen as an homage to early-nineties Seattle-based grunge rock, a movement that spawned a great deal of lumberjack wear among the university students of America. It was originally a signifier of working-class affinities, and now is evidence of enrolment in an art college (almost the opposite).

One might argue that, in choosing to look uncomfortable, the hipsters are showing the ultimate disdain for discussions of fashion. And that this paradoxical combination of nonchalance and great affectation - the willingness to look ridiculous as part of a pose of indifference - has been a hallmark of some of the most influential fashion trends, starting with Beau Brummell's fanatically austere dandyism.

Or you might just not worry about it, take off your tuque, cool off and enjoy the summer.

Ask Mr. Smith a question, or view the complete archive, at Russell Smith's online advisory service, DailyXY.com.

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