The Hood Life

red hooded sweatshirt

There are many articles of men’s clothing that I have never owned. A jockstrap, for example. I’ve never had a reason to buy one, not even for comedy. I’ve also never had a rain slicker, galoshes, mittens, or capri pants. (That last one is a trick. There’s no such thing as men’s capri pants.) Nor have I ever owned a wife-beater T-shirt. I don’t have the arms for it, or the wife. Frankly, I don’t know why the companies that manufacture those shirts even call them that. Seems kind of offensive.

Until recently, the list of clothing I’d never owned also included hooded sweatshirts, or “hoodies,” as the kids call them nowadays. I’d had sweatshirts without hoods, and casual sweaters, and I even went through a brief cardigan phase in high school (I was not popular), but for whatever reason I’d never come to possess a hoodie. It seems like the main reason people buy hoodies is that they have a sports team or college they want to advertise, and I hadn’t found myself in that situation. Nor had I ever thought, “Gee, I wish I had a hoodie.” In my perception, whatever functions a hoodie performs, those needs were being met by other articles of clothing.

Or so I thought! Last summer I learned that my friend Mike is a major hoodie aficionado. This was revealed when several of us were sitting around Mike’s patio table one night when it got chilly, and he offered to go inside and procure hoodies for whoever needed one. A few of those in attendance had come prepared with their own outerwear, hooded or otherwise, but I had not. I hadn’t realized we were going to keep sitting outside after it got cold, like a bunch of idiots. But apparently we were. So I took Mike up on his kind offer of hoodie-lending and soon found myself wrapped in comfort and warmth. I was hooked!

Now you’re thinking: It’s one thing if you’d never owned a hoodie, Mr. Snider. But was this the first time you’d ever even WORN one?? And to that I can only answer: maybe? I cannot specifically recall any prior instance of a hooded sweatshirt being on my body, which only stands to reason considering I never owned one. In general, the only time you wear a hoodie that is not your own is if you are a girl and your boyfriend lets you wear his, or if you are in Mike’s backyard and it gets chilly. None of those things had happened to me before.

And yet the experience of wearing the hoodie felt familiar. I knew instinctively that I wanted to put my hands in the front pocket. It was the pullover kind of hoodie, not the zip-up kind, so it had that single pocket where you can put your hands together like two gophers meeting in the middle of a tunnel. Doing so made me feel warm and safe, even though I was only slightly warmer than I’d been five minutes earlier, and not at all safer. In fact, with my hands occupied doing the gopher thing in the pocket, I was probably less safe in the event of a sudden predator attack. It wasn’t cold enough to put the hood up, but I did like the way it served as a neck cushion while in the down position.

It was here that Mike’s fondness for hoodies was made known to us. He doesn’t just have a lot of them, he actively loves them. He can (and will) wax rhapsodic about his favorite hoodies of yesteryear, the hoodies that carried him through difficult times before falling into disrepair and being sadly replaced. “I once had an intense love affair with a six-dollar hoodie from Target” is something that Mike actually said to me. I talked more about hoodies with Mike in five minutes than I had with everyone else over the course of my entire life.

I resolved to buy a hoodie at the next opportunity. In the meantime, I retained some skepticism about the hood part of the hoodie. It didn’t seem like it would be very useful, since I don’t get caught outside in the rain very often. Hoodies didn’t become popular as a fashion item — indeed, didn’t start being called “hoodies” — until the 1990s, and by then I was old enough to have already settled into my sartorial habits. I had my set of clothing items that I bought and maintained and replaced as necessary, and hoodies weren’t among them.

And so this mindset where young people wear hoodies with the hoods up, not to protect against rain or cold but simply as a statement to the world, that whole thing passed me by. I didn’t get it. One summer night around 10 o’clock I happened to glance out my window and see a young man get out of a car and walk down the street, and he pulled his hood up as he did so, even though it was a warm, clear night. And because I’m a fussy old lady, apparently, I thought: Why is he wearing the hood? What’s he got to hide? What’s he doing out at this hour, anyway, walking around by himself, pulling his hood up like he doesn’t want to be seen? I closed the blinds and peered between the slats, scowling after this kid — this hoodlum, no doubt! That’s probably where that word comes from.

Only after buying my first hoodie did I come to appreciate the value of the hood. It was your basic starter hoodie, dark blue, nothing special, no logos on it. It was late fall now, and one night my apartment got chilly. Not cold enough to use a bag of ice to trick the thermostat into turning the heat on, but cold enough to wear another layer. These were the perfect conditions for the deployment of a hoodie! As I was sitting there in my hoodie, watching TV, the hood got bunched up behind my neck and became uncomfortable. Without even thinking, I pulled the hood up over my head.

It was as though a whole new world had opened up — or, more accurately, had closed off. With the hood on my head and my hands gophering in the pocket, I felt secure and comfortable, protected from the cares of the world. It was like I had nestled into a warm, cotton bomb shelter. And this was in my own apartment, where I was already shielded from most things!

The true test of the hoodie’s powers came several nights later, at a movie screening. It was a public event, but I was the only critic in attendance, so I was surrounded on all sides by strangers, and not just strangers but the kind of strangers who are always waiting in line for hours to get into these free movie screenings, i.e., very strange strangers. I was wearing my hoodie, and once again instinct kicked in. I put up the hood, thereby isolating myself from the terrifying world around me. The hood’s edges blocked my peripheral vision, letting me see the movie screen without distraction. Even the sounds produced by the rubes who must vocalize their every thought when they see a moving-picture show impacted me less than usual. When someone two rows behind me said, in a conversational tone, “Dolly Parton looks great for her age!,” it was as though it had happened elsewhere, in a parallel universe that was related to mine but didn’t have any effect on it. Had I at last found the secret to protecting myself from the annoyances of public life? Could it be as simple as this? Probably not. Nonetheless, I am glad to have discovered the usefulness of the wearable cocoon.