I am becoming a woman who wears hats, but it wasn't my idea.

Don't get me wrong. I love hats. I've bought dozens of them, convincing myself that I could be a woman who wears hats. Then I'd put one on in preparation of venturing beyond my doorstep, and I'd chicken out. The hat would go back on the shelf or the hall tree.

I've purchased cowboy hats, a deerstalker's cap, a Billy the Kid stovepipe, a bowler, a skimmer, a floppy gardening hat, a couple of fedoras, an assortment of brimmed hats and dozens of baseball caps. When I was in Salt Lake City reporting on the Olympic Games, I even stood in line for an hour to buy an extremely popular beret that the Canadian team had made popular.

After years of being too timid to make a hat statement, a skin cancer scare has put a hat on her head.
After years of being too timid to make a hat statement, a skin cancer scare has put a hat on her head. (Jim Atherton/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

I think I was pretty close to being like Bartholomew Cubbins and his 500 hats, except while he struggled to get them all off, I couldn't manage to put one on.

With the exception of the baseball caps, which I wear to mow the lawn or walk the dog when my hair is having "a day," I've only worn two of the hats outside of the house, and only on one occasion each.

I think I look good in hats and I love wearing them, but I'm just not brave enough to wear them in public. I imagine people looking at me and thinking, "Nice hat, but who's the doofus wearing it?"

Hats seem to also require a wardrobe that I do not own, and a certain outgoing personality, which I do not possess either. Still, I want to be a woman who wears hats. I almost died with envy at the amazing topper Aretha Franklin wore to President Barack Obama's first inauguration. All the hats and so-called "fascinators" on display at William and Kate's royal wedding had me pondering a move to England, where wearing a hat, even a weird one, seems routine.

But I just couldn't bring myself to do it. So one day while cleaning my closet -- it was a rare day, admittedly -- I decided to face reality. I would never be a hat person. I got rid of the lot, except the cowboy hat, which had been expensive; the beret, which is a collector's item; and a fedora, because I'm a reporter and every reporter needs a fedora with a "press" card stuck in the hatband, whether they wear it or not.

Now I'm regretting my decluttering impulse, because I have acquired something that I lacked before when it came to hat-wearing: a reason.

Last month, I had a basal cell skin cancer removed from my face. If you are going to have cancer, the dermatologist said, basal cell is the best kind to have. If left unchecked, it will disfigure, but not kill you, and removal means cure.

The only lasting effect of my surgery is a quickly fading scar -- and the need to wear sunscreen and a hat.

Being in the sun has always been where I am. As a kid, I played outside at every opportunity, watching my skin turn a lovely golden brown. In college, I joined the rest of my dormitory in slathering baby oil on my skin and baking in the sun in order to get a browner brown.

When I began to garden in earnest, I shunned protection, proudly sporting my farmer's tan (bronze face, neck and arms from the elbow down), convinced that I was in no danger.

So much for bravado in the face of reality.

Still, it has given me the courage to wear a hat. I still don't have the wardrobe or the flamboyancy, but the inner voice that told me people would wonder why I was wearing a hat now has been joined by a voice that justifies the choice. I'm not wearing a hat because I think I'm hip; I'm wearing a hat because I'm being sensible.

Now comes the hard part -- finding the perfect hat. Or hats. I'm pretty sure I'm going to need more than one.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/AskJoanMorris.