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HATS OFF TO THE NEXT GENERATION? NOT IF THE YOUNGSTERS CAN HELP IT

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If I were Brooks Brothers, Barney's or any other haberdasher to the mighty, I would be quietly designing a line of hats.

Specifically, I would be creating baseball-style hats in gray flannel, worsted pinstripes and quiet Harris tweeds, and I would be training my tailors to customize the hats for individuals, getting just the right roll in the brim and scalp-hugging fit for the crown.If I were a law firm or ad agency or brokerage, I would start thinking about my logo, preferably something simple and dramatic in black, teal and silver, and, if necessary, a name change.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom may be a fine law firm, but if the name won't fit on the front of a hat, it can forget about attracting the best and brightest.

All this preparation is against the moment today's teenagers come pouring out of the malls and into the boardrooms. This generation, unlike its predecessors, is a hat-wearing generation and mighty particular about its head gear.

My own generation, remarkable for its lack of ears because they froze and fell off when we were young, refused to wear hats. A lad of the late '50s would choose a life of exile before wearing a hat.

My own sons take off their hats only under duress.

The only sign of order in my No. 2 son's Jurassic Park of a room is his hats neatly lined up in a row, and one of the few signs of order in his life is that each day of the week has its own hat. We may leave the house without our lunch or, in one brief instance, without our shoes, but we will not leave without our hat.

Most of his hats have the logos of prominent institutions of higher learning - Penn State, North Carolina, Georgetown - even though the young scholar insists that, regardless of whatever plans his parents have made, he, personally, is not going on to junior high school.

His older brother has taught him how to cut the sizing out of the hat so that the hat fits the head tightly and smoothly and how to roll the bill so it makes a steep-pitched curve over the face. The hat is then worn so low over the eyes that the whole effect is like a doe-eyed creature peering from under a ledge.

A hat worn constantly tends to get dirty, and thanks to this my older son has picked up, from his uncle in the Army, his one and only household hint:

He washes his hats in the dishwasher. It's a startling and somewhat disgusting sight to open the dishwasher and see a row of filthy hats draped over the cup rack.

This becapped generation will soon run the world and will need all sort of hats - hats to broker deals in, hats to appear in court in, hats to run for president in.

Meanwhile, a nice line of high-top brogues, perhaps with a pump, a name like Air Wingtip and, of course, untied laces, might be in order to go with the hats.