Humblebrags and self promotion can be tricky propositions

7 mins read


It is Sunday morning and I’m sitting on my deck drinking my coffee and reading the Wall Street Journal — Weekend Edition.

This morning, the WSJ gives us an article on baseball caps and the grown men who wear them. The piece begins by describing a $21 cap with “Chinati stitched across the front in a neat sans serif font.” 

This particular cap tells the world that one drove to Marfa, Texas — a town way off the beaten track — and spent time with the minimalist masterworks assembled by the Chinati Foundation. This cap is a what is called a ‘humblebrag.’

Other humblebrag hats include headgear that say ‘Odeon,’ ‘Bohemian Grove,’ ‘Martha’s Vineyard’ and any cap that names any oyster bar in Abuja, Nigeria.

“It’s a way to meet and sort of, I guess, notice other people who are at least like you in some ways,” said Brooks Riggins, 33, an advertising copywriter in Dallas who is partial to a hat from the One and Only Ocean Club, a since-renamed resort in the Bahamas.

For many men, myself included, it is important to tell other people that one is well connected or extensively traveled.

“I can’t help but notice you’re wearing a baseball cap that says ‘Ron Jon Surf Shop Myrtle Beach.’ Have you actually been to Myrtle Beach?”

I must confess that I have a bald spot that sunburns easily so I have a reason for wearing a baseball cap. (But not backwards — there is no excuse for a man my age, or any age, wearing a cap backwards.) But I also know the sunburn excuse loses legitimacy in a darkened pub like Saltus, Breakwater or Circa 1875 in Savannah.

If the truth be told, I’ve never liked baseball caps because they emphasize the largeness of my already-too-large head. 

But the article in the Journal takes me back maybe 40 years, when Beaufort Memorial Hospital decided to have a fundraiser in the form of a cummerbund-and-gold-cufflink ball at the Lyceum on Parris Island.

In those days, I spent a lot of time with a friend, Roger Steele, and several days before the event we were talking about what we would be wearing to the Valentine’s Ball. In those days many of our friends were active duty Marines, and they, of course, would be wearing their colorful uniforms accessorized with medals.

“It’s just not fair,” Roger said as we sat in his Teal Room. “We wear a black jacket, boring black slacks and maybe a cummerbund with a little color. They cover their chest with ribbons and medals.”

“They earned them,” I replied, knowing that Roger had spent time in the Marine Corps when he was younger.

“I got a medal for marksmanship,” he said. “But it’s not much to look at.”

“Perhaps we could design our own,” I said. “Perhaps something to commemorate your teaching; and my time in court.”

Later that evening I took a medal my father had won in 1939 (at the Ohio State Junior Tennis Tournament) and added a ribbon. Roger, who was not shy and far more creative in these matters, found a medallion the size of a beer coaster and added a ribbon that looped around his head in the manner of a Nobel Laureate. 

And of course, Roger created an appropriate story that I didn’t hear until I got to the ball and was dancing with Helen Harvey.

“Did you know that Roger rescued a diplomat’s daughter,” she whispered in my ear.

“When?” I replied, stunned that I had not heard about this particular rescue.

“When he was living in Japan,” she said. “And tonight he’s wearing the medal given to him by the Prime Minister.”

Many of us know that life is a daily, perhaps hourly, contest between self-esteem and self-loathing. For years I did my esteem-building by way of T-shirts that memorialized huge tuition payments (St. Lawrence University) or bad destination decisions (the Barbed Wire Museum in McLean, Texas). Regrettably there is a dress code problem with most T-shirts — you can’t wear them to weddings, funerals or to The Grey in Savannah.

My reluctance to wear a conversation-starting T-shirt is antique in this day of self-promotion on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

And self-esteem is a hungry creature requiring a constant stream of ‘likes.’ 

According to recent statistics released by Facebook, the average daily user spends 41 minutes a day on Facebook — much of that time updating, or ‘curating,’ his or her resume.

But Facebook is a bridge too far for me.


For those of us lucky enough to have known Roger Steele the Olympic-sized medallion he designed years ago is just about right for the years he spent teaching children to draw; for the creativity he instilled in hundreds of college students; for his uncanny ability to make us laugh at ourselves and the world around us.

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