Why Wearing An Animal Hat Might Actually Be Good For You — The Importance Of Playing Dress Up As A Grown Up

Loathed by some and loved by others, novelty animal hats seem to be enjoying a surprising spell of popularity as of late. Whilst some humans out there might perceive the trend as childish and silly, I am an open advocate of the animal hat. You may be eyed curiously by passersby's, giggled at by teenagers in the street or outright heckled — but none of that stuff really matters. And besides, it all happens to me anyway (the price of being a fun dresser, I guess!).

Wearing an animal hat — in my case, a panda — is an exercise in playfulness. How can you take yourself too seriously when you’ve got a panda on your head?! My panda hat, silly as it may seem, has provided me with no end of comfort when things get overwhelming. The feeling of dread when I see the letter telling me it’s time to complete my tax return fades when I put on my panda hat. (Pandas don’t have to complete tax returns!) I don’t care about the odd looks I get in the street — I AM A PANDA! And pandas don’t care about being looked at in the street! I have even, on occasion, worn my panda hat to bed during particularly difficult spells. Happy pandas sleep better, it turns out.

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Obviously I am not suggesting the animal hat as a long-term solution to your problems — and if you’re struggling with anxiety and/or depression, please, please make sure you talk to someone you trust and seek the help you may need. The panda hat, as helpful as I find it, is certainly no magic cure. Plus, a panda hat won’t save you from a hefty government fine when you fail to file your tax return on time. However, there is a lot to be said for channelling your inner child.

As adults, many of us lose the ability — or the willingness — to play. It’s commonly accepted that play is important for children’s development but many of us overlook the importance of play in adulthood. The panda hat, for me, is an instant way to facilitate a sense of playfulness. I pop it on my head and I am suddenly able to feel silly and carefree for a while. In the words of psychiatrist and play-advocate Stuart Brown, "Nothing lights up the brain like play." Human beings are naturally inquisitive creatures and exploration is very much a part of play — essentially, play is part of human nature.

“The thing that's so unique about our species is that we're really designed to play through our whole lifetime.” — Stuart Brown

I think what we often struggle with as adults is giving ourselves (and each other) permission to play. This is why the panda hat is helpful. It’s like putting on a "play" costume. It’s my pass to be playful. A little escapism every so often is good for the soul and is actually one of my go-to coping methods. Even if I still have to walk to work or do other mundane things in panda mode, it’s this playfulness that puts a bounce in my step, or reminds me to notice the shapes of the clouds and to say hello to lonely dogs waiting for their owners outside shops. It’s hard to forget to be playful, to feel playful, to think playful, when you are wearing a fluffy reminder on your head.

There was a young boy in one of my weekly community arts groups who would turn up to each session in a different costume. He was Batman, Spider-Man, Woody from Toy Story — he even turned up in a dress shirt, waistcoat and suit trousers one day. His mom explained that he “wanted to look fancy” that day. Many kids just dress up as whatever they want to be on any given day; their identity is performative, playful and in flux. It’s not uncommon to see kids playing Superman in the supermarket and we can learn a lot from them. You can wear your Superman costume whenever you like. Or your panda hat. Or whatever else it is that makes you feel playful.

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Peter O’Connor, Associate Professor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, has spoken of the need for adults to reconnect with this childhood sense of play:

“[Adults] need to play more so they can reconnect with their bodies and their senses. They need to skip and dance and pretend because it makes themselves and others feel better about the world, their place in it and how the world might be different in the morning. Adults need to play to remind themselves that there is more to life than work, more to life than struggle, more to life than getting and spending.”

So it looks like there’s a lot to be said for having a panda hat — or any equivalent — as a grown up. It’s about finding that goofy little thing that channels the kid inside you, even if it’s something small enough to wear on a daily basis, like a pair of polka dot shoelaces. Maybe it’s a pair of Sponge Bob socks or Disney undies that nobody else sees, or a set of cat whiskers painted on your face when you’re working from home. So allow the less adult part of yourself shine through — at least a little bit — and let some playfulness into your life.

Images: Author; Getty Images