Not long before we headed out to San Diego Comic-Con, my friend Elsha Wolf mentioned that she was dressing as a hat, specifically, the orange and yellow beanie that mercenary Jayne Cobb wears in an episode of Firefly. It's hard to imagine how someone plans on dressing as a hat until you see it, but, on Friday, when Elsha showed up wearing a handknit dress with a yellow top, orange skirt and red flaps hanging from the bottom, as well as a matching pompom headband, it was obvious. After one month of work on the dress, Elsha was Jayne's hat.

Jayne's hat is a strange piece of visual minutiae. It didn't make frequent appearances in the show, but it has taken on a sort of cult status within the convention world. If you see someone wearing the beanie at a convention, you know instantly that he or she is a Firefly fan. This year, we saw a lot of people wearing the hat.

Jayne's hat at the California Browncoats booth; Credit: Liz Ohanesian

Jayne's hat at the California Browncoats booth; Credit: Liz Ohanesian

“It's become an icon amongst Browncoats,” says Tabin Mann, a board member of California Browncoats, of the hat. Browncoats, by the way, are Firefly fans. They were out in force this weekend thanks, in part, to a special 10th-anniversary reunion panel for Joss Whedon's short-lived sci-fi series.

Despite Firefly's short life, the show made a massive impact. It launched careers; it spawned related media and even the film Serenity. In fact, the fan community surrounding the space drama has only grown in size and passion since the show, which starred Nathan Fillion (still relatively unknown to anyone but fans of the soap opera One Life to Live at that time), was unceremoniously canceled. For Friday's panel, plenty of people camped out for a spot inside San Diego Convention Center's Ballroom 20. My pal Elsha arrived later, at 6 a.m., to stand in line, where people remarked, “You're a hat!” and, “Wow! You're just the hat.” People took photos. Even that afternoon, when we were hanging around outside of Hall H, fellow Firefly fans kept stopping her. The hat was a hit.

Inside the convention's exhibit hall, the California Browncoats were selling $40 replicas of the hat,e made by members of the nonprofit group. This year, they were raising money for the Trevor Project, a organization that has been supported by Sean Maher, who played Dr. Simon Tam on the show, and by Firefly scribe Jane Espenson. The hats are a regular feature at California Browncoats' convention booths.

One of many people wearing Jayne's hat at SDCC this year; Credit: Liz Ohanesian

One of many people wearing Jayne's hat at SDCC this year; Credit: Liz Ohanesian

Tabin Mann says there's more to the hat than aesthetics. The hat is a gift Jayne received from his mother and it helps establish his personality as more than just the tough mercenary. “He's such a tough character and you see him loving this hat,” Mann explains. “He puts it on right away even though it's ghastly. It's orange and yellow and bright, completely antithetic to his character.”

You could view Jayne's hat as a symbol of the fandom on a lot of levels. Maybe it's a sentimental object, a reminder of something that was never really gone, even after it left the air. Maybe it's an outward sign of love for Whedon's complex characters. One thing was for certain — the hat become one of the most memorable signs of San Diego Comic-Con 2012, even if it wasn't something new.

“Everyone is in the spirit of celebrating the show,” says Mann. “We lost it way too soon. I think that Jayne hats are just a way of saying, hey, we're still here.”

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