Some years ago, I was late for the wedding of an old friend. Properly, panic-inducingly, palm-sweatingly late, for a service at which I was due to give a reading. Seconds after I rushed up the aisle, past a room full of tutting guests, the bride rounded the corner and made her procession. As she saw me, she smiled, and then scowled.
“What,” she hissed, “have you got on your head?”
And that’s how I learnt not to wear a baseball cap to a wedding.
For the past decade, I’ve worn a cap almost everywhere. At business meetings, dinner parties and to meet my boyfriend’s parents. Come rain or shine, in a suit or shorts. Over years of collecting, my inventory of headgear has expanded beyond a drawer, and now fills a trunk with some overspill.
I’m not sure where it began – certainly, not from any need for concealment. My head is mercifully free of lumps, bumps or anything to give pause to a phrenologist. And I have – so far, at least – no bald patches, and little recession in my hairline. In fact, for the past several years, I have bleached my hair with militant regularity, spending considerable time on achieving the perfect shade of blonde, before thrusting it unceremoniously beneath a cap.
It’s become a security blanket, of sorts: similar, I suppose, to women who don’t feel “dressed” without lipstick on. And, certainly, it eradicates any concerns about bad-hair days. But beyond that, it’s a balm to my persistent, low-burning anxiety about appearing overdressed, or – the eternal millennial concern – of “trying too hard”. I’ve lived most of my life with the recurrent fear that I’d turn up to work, or a social event, or a funeral, and look like I’ve put too much effort in. It takes little more than someone seeing what I’m wearing and saying, “Ooh, you’ve made an effort,” to bring me to collapse. Mentally, I never grew out of the hoodie-wearing, corner-skulking teenager of the early 2000s.