When I was growing up, in large part thanks to my father’s love affair and work with Hollywood, we always watched the masters Fellini, Hitchcock, Welles, Rossellini, Hawks, Capra and the duos Bogart and Bacall, and Tracy and Hepburn and of course Grant, Stewart, Mastroianni, Gable, Cooper, Brando, McQueen and so many other great directors and actors from years ago – yet immortal.
One thing that I always loved about these movies was the impeccable style of the men and women from that era. In particular, I was obsessed with the men’s driving caps and fedoras (with their endless variations). Unfortunately, when I was younger, these hats were disdained and considered by many either as pretentious, eccentric or for old men until a recent resurgence brought their popularity back, albeit often revisited in a more “modern” key. So it’s actually “cool” to wear a hat, again. We’ll have to see how long that lasts.
And yet, fashionistas everywhere like to say that you have to be able to “pull it off”, by which I think they mean that you have to be a celebrity with a stylist. Really? Hats have been around forever and there is nothing to “pull off”. I’ll grant you that each of us will look “sharper” in one style or the other and there are more or less appropriate models for different circumstances (City Slickers in Stetsons – you know what I’m talking about), but let’s not forget that, at least for us guys, it’s also a great way to keep your head cool when the sun beats down, keep the rain off when you’re caught in a sudden downpour and keep your head warm when it is cold. It’s not just an accessory for show – although the current trend makes that hard to believe.
I doubt the hat will again become a de facto part of a man’s basic wardrobe anytime soon (I am not including the baseball cap which does have its time and place, but is too often an appendage on many a man’s head these days – even the post-college guys). The renewed interest, though, is a stay of execution for an industry that is certainly at risk.
Sadly, there are few original makers anymore (like the above mentioned Stetson – maker since 1865 of the iconic “Ten Gallon” or “Cowboy hat”, but not only) and although some of the larger retailers are bringing out some classic models, like J.Crew, as well as specialty hat stores like Hats in the Belfry which have their own line of fedoras and La Coppolla Storta which makes the iconic Sicilian Coppolla (aka flat or driving cap), it is still not something you see men wearing everyday.
There is one historic brand that given my strong Italian heritage I want to mention as a go-to name, in case I have made my case and convinced you to add a hat to your daily routine. Borsalino has been making hats in Alessandria, Italy since 1857 and they have some of the classics. If you happen to be in New York drop by their States-side headquarters just a few blocks to the South of the Empire State Building on Fifth Avenue.
Next time you walk by a hat rack stop and give one or two a try. There are so many different styles and yours is just waiting to be found. To those of you who have already found yours – Chapeau!