The cat in the hat

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.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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8 Responses to The cat in the hat

  1. Ancient Brit says:

    Ah, the black felt fedora. I ventured to buy one a long time ago in Oxford, but got so many unkind comments the first time I wore it in public that I stopped. Can’t remember what I did with it – probably gave it away.

    I tried a beige panama, but the weave was so slack (not quite straw but some kind of fabric that was akin) that when I wore it one very sunny day while I was outside for an hour (waiting for a bus in Eynsham), I got a pointillist sunburn on my bonce!

    I do have pictures on the Web of me wearing what amounts to an old fishing hat during a holiday of sorts in Barmouth, Wales. However… How shall I put this? I was bored at the time – we all were – and there was this seafront photobooth, beckoning…

    I’m going to post an article on EofC eventually about that trip years ago (1973) so the full set will probably have to go up there since I have no other piccies of the place or the people. Just me. Deranged.

    Don’t ask…

    • SilverTiger says:

      The weave of Panama hats varies with cost. The most expensive ones are so tightly woven that they are difficult to distinguish from cloth. The cheaper ones are more loosely woven.

      The market in genuine Panama hats has been hit, like the market in so many other products, by cheap imports from China and other Eastern sources. The poor quality of these often has the effect of making people think the genuine article is also of poor quality.

      Real “Panama” hats come from Ecuador and like all local producers, hat makers have been exploited by middle men who charge high prices while paying the producers next to nothing. Fortunately, some fair trade organizations are starting up to give producers a fair rate but it is uncertain whether this will save the industry.

      You now have to be of a certain age to remember a time in Britain when you could be mocked or criticized for wearing something even slightly unconventional. Fortunately, those times are long gone and people are free to express themselves in their dress and accessories. On the other hand, this makes it hard to be unusual!

  2. Ancient Brit says:

    This was UKP35 back in about 1989, and the weave was so tight that I hadn’t realised it was a weave. But not so tight that there wasn’t a myriad of tiny holes through which the UV got me (I burn incredibly easily).

    I used to joke that it took a motorcycle crash helmet to stop my head from getting burned – but it wasn’t too far from the truth. My original hair colour was ginger and even now I still have a ton of freckles (I never tan).

    I think I’m definitely of that “certain age” 🙂

  3. Chris B says:

    While I do have a black fedora myself, it is safely nesting in a hat box in the bottom of the wardrobe: the Indiana Jones tag is too much to live up to!

    Instead, I’ve been wearing a Drizabone Topender for some years. At the time I bought it, I remember reading that most owners in Oz only ever forgot them once for the simple reason that they are so effective at turning showers that wouldn’t want to be without it again. Unfortunately, time and wear mean that the effectiveness of the weatherproofing has been reduced and the hat itself is looking rather battered so I too am now facing up to the inevitability of replacing it.

    • SilverTiger says:

      There’s nothing to live up to. Plenty of people wear fedoras besides an overhyped screen hero. It’s merely the overpricing you have to watch out for. Personally I would never wear brown, anyway.

      All hats wear out eventually, unfortunately, even the best loved. Looking on the bright side, that provides the fun of personalizing a new one from scratch.

  4. Reluctant Blogger says:

    Oh I love to see people in hats. I often hanker after a spot of time-travel to the 1940s and 1950s just because everyone wore them. I don’t wear them myself though – they don’t suit me at all. I wore a beret a lot as a student but that is the only time.

    Raffish is a super word.

    But where is the photo?

  5. Reluctant Blogger says:

    I like it!

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