No one would ever mistake me for a style guru. With my slacks from M&S and my shirts and pullovers from Peacock’s, I am never going to make Snappy Dresser of the Year. However, I do like my hats, or perhaps I should say “hat”, as I only ever have one at a time which then has to do for all occasions.
I had had my previous hat for quite a while and travelled a lot of miles with it. It had become rather worn to the point where even the tolerant Tigger had begun to pass the occasional remark. I had to face facts: it was time to buy a new one.
I don’t know whether you have noticed, but recently, men’s hats have begun to come back into fashion. I don’t mean woolly pull-ons and baseball caps; I mean proper hats, trilbies, fedoras and the like. Day by day you see more and more of these hats in the streets and while some of them are obviously old ones pulled out of wardrobes into the light of day again, some are brand new and, interestingly enough, the wearers are of all ages, including young men.
My favourite style of hat is a black fedora. If you do not know what this is, think Indiana Jones: the wide-brimmed hat worn by this unlikely hero is a classic fedora.
The basic design calls for a brim at least 2 and a half inches wide. Usually, this droops slightly front and rear and, in compensation, curves up slightly but elegantly over the ears. It has a “pinch crown”, which means that there is a single narrow dent running fore and aft across the top and two shallow dents on the sides. The hat band is of cotton or silk, an inch or more wide, and usually in the same colour as the hat.
There are variations on this theme, of course. There is the “C-crown”, so called because the top dent curves around a bulge forming a shape like the letter ‘C’. Or it may have a “snap brim”, which means that the brim tips down in front and up at the back.
While the trilby in all its variations remains popular, the fedora is becoming better known again, perhaps because of its romantic but macho associations. In its heyday, it was seen in the films of George Raft and Edward G. Robinson as the hat worn by gangsters such as Al Capone and by those gallant “Untouchables”. The name is said to come from the play Fédora (1882) by Victorien Sardou, whose eponymous heroine wore a hat that inspired the design.
The fedora is made of felt and is robust. These days you can find models that are “packable”, that is, that can be rolled up, stuffed in a suitcase and shaken out again to recover their original form. Thus, as well as a fashion accessory, the fedora is also the hat of outdoor people, protecting from sun and rain, being used as a fan to start a camp fire and as a vessel to carry water.
No wonder Indiana Jones wears one! Just remember, though, that if you buy a fedora, don’t buy one with the name of Indiana Jones on it because these cost twice or three times as much as a hat of the same quality without that name on it. It’s just a brown fedora, when all’s said and done.
You might think that with men’s hats returning into fashion it would be easy to buy one. Not so. Even in London, you would be hard pressed to find a shop selling them, especially if you are, like me, fussy and know exactly what you want.
Buying online is perilous too, because you don’t know what you are getting until you have the hat in your hands. Before parting with your money, you need to make sure that the vendor has a good returns policy.
I surfed the Web for a long time, bookmarking sites, comparing features, trying to reach a decision, but without success. It’s quite difficult to judge from a distance. For one thing, vendors have fallen into the lazy habit of sizing hats “small”, “medium”, “large” and “extra large”. I deplore this: it tells you nothing about the size of the hat, because each vendor applies these labels differently. Hats should be sized properly, preferably according to the circumference of the wearer’s head just above the ears.
Among the familiar names that kept cropping up, I noticed an unusual one, Pachacuti. I ignored this for a while but then took a closer look. The hat seemed quite good, a C-crown with a snap brim, black in colour and sized properly in centimetres. I saw that the name was a Quechua phrase meaning “the world upside down” and that the hat was made by a women’s collective in Ecuador, the country from which the genuine “Panama” hat comes from. You can read all about the cooperative and its fair trade operation on the Pachacuti Web site.
I took the plunge and ordered one. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked the snap brim but I have become used to it and have to admit that it is quite elegant. It’s definitely a town hat, though, and I won’t be using it to fan any camp fires or to water any horses. Do I look ever-so-slightly gangsterish in it? Hm, not sure. Perhaps I’ll settle for “raffish”.
I decorated my old hat with a red band loaded with pin badges from all the places we travelled to. I tried a similar trick with the new hat but it didn’t really work so I have given up for now until I think think of a different way of doing it.
I must find some way to subvert it, though, because in the meantime I’m worried I look dangerously close to respectable.