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Hats: the way to do it

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Are hats a thing of the past?

Are hats a thing of the past?

We all know that 50 years ago no man would be seen without his hat, while most men these days go about bareheaded. What happened?

Apart from at the odd wedding or funeral, the only other time I've ever seen them are in “rock” movies where the wardrobe department invariably hands one to the slightly Gothy keyboard player.

These gestures should be smart and fleeting, never exaggerated or clumsy. 

In spite of this, hats are always trying to stage a revival - whether a Mad Men-inspired referencing of a more elegant age or something to keep out the extremes of our weather. But thanks to generations of hat-free life something has been lost.

<i>Boardwalk Empire's</i> Steve Buscemi.

Boardwalk Empire's Steve Buscemi.

According to the ABC of Men’s Fashion, written by the English tailor Hardy Amies, hats fell out of favour in the early Sixties because menswear was being increasingly created by younger men who, as the Sixties got swingier, wanted to keep out the squares. The modern look was for modern, young man. “The first signs of age in a man appear in a receding hairline,” Amies says. “Thus to go hatless is to display defiantly one’s youth.” So to not wear a hat became the thing to do and as the Sixties turned into the Seventies and hair grew longer and longer still, the hat faded from view.

Getting a hat is one thing - but do you know what to do with it?

Most of my hats are in the kids' dressing-up drawer - the genuine Moroccan tarboush, the Helmut Schmidt hat that the genuine Helmut Schmidt gave my father, the battered and misshapen straw trilby - and I never wear one in winter and stupidly rarely in summer. But (the perils of hat-head aside) I do like the idea of a hat; I’m just, like many of us, all at sea. 

Maybe it’s the cold but hats seemed to be everywhere yesterday. On the way to work I almost dropped my coffee when I saw someone in a topper. Fairly nondescriptly dressed young man. In A Top Hat. In the 21st century.

Then the missus, at the zoo with children, had someone politely raise his hat to her. She was, she said, quite impressed. Though found it a bit quaint. 

Before the Sixties, men had been wearing hats forever and - people being people - a vast array of customs, conventions, rules and taboos had sprung up about what sort of hats to wear and what to do with them when you’ve got them on. Now, when a man reaches for a hat, whether for the racing, or bracing for the weather, he is often at a loss. So here are some ideas on the hat to choose - and what to do with it when its on your head.   

Amies' book gives some good tips on the sorts of hats to pick - and who should wear them:

Boater "Better left to elegant fishmongers."
Bowler "The only truly smart headgear for a man - but it can only be worn in London or at a race meeting. It should never be worn abroad, never by foreigners and Americans who do so should be fined."
Cap "Change the p to d and you have 'cad'."
Grey Top Hats "Incorrect in winter. Acceptable with a hired morning suit." 
Straw hat "The ideal hat for warm weather. Straw should be used more extensively. Then men would wear hats in summer."

Trilbies are, he says, the most popular hat. And he also has some useful tips on colour - match the coat not the suit - and brims. “In general a round or big-faced man cannot wear as narrow a brim as can a man with a small face,” he says. “But you must just try everything on for effect.”

So you've got the right hat, now what do you do with it? The Ritz Book of Customs and Manners from 1991 (though it seems a lot older) has good advice on how to behave when out and about, in a section cutely titled “Little Courtesies to Ladies”. “When meeting a lady of his acquaintance either in the street or at a public gathering such as a race meeting it is not necessary for a gentleman to remove his hat but he touches it as a mark of respect.” Simple. Touch the hat. But where?

John Morgan in his Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners suggests taking hats off in lifts, in the presence of royalty or the dead, in a church but not in a synagogue. As for greetings, he says that when meeting somebody or passing them on the street “it is traditional for men to touch the brim of their hat”. When a man meets a woman he “can also raise his hat gently”. If he ends up talking to her, he should take his hat off. Morgan goes on, with probably the most important bit of all. “These gestures,” he says, “should be smart and fleeting, never exaggerated or clumsy.”

That seems the nub of it. Hats are classy - so act accordingly. A little tap on the brim - no leering - and take it off when you should. Simple.

Are you a hat-wearer? What sort do you like and do you know what to do with it?

21 comments so far

  • I have several hats. My wife hates most of them but they are for function not form (even though you try and buy nice ones obviously; dress akubras and kangols etc). I am bald so they keep the sun off and the cold out.

    Commenter
    Franky
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    June 27, 2012, 11:08AM
    • ... people aren't wearing enough hats.

      Commenter
      Kakui Kujira
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 11:17AM
      • The Crimson Permanent Assurance Company has been working on this.

        Commenter
        whero
        Location
        NT
        Date and time
        June 27, 2012, 1:36PM
    • My Father wore Fedoras (hope that is correct spelling) and when he wore it, the hat would sit at the John Wayne angle. Looking at some photos of him recently, my Partner said he looked debonair with the hat, oh and yes; he always tipped it to the ladies with his right eyebrow raised and a cheecky smile.
      Should we bring things like this back into fashion? Only if we as a generation can carry it off, look good and do not do not try and change the look.
      God help us if the powder blue Safari Suit comes back in as I will have to get my Pith helmet out LMHAO.

      Commenter
      freddydownsouth
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 12:06PM
      • In the early early 'Saint' books Simon Templer always wore his 'at a rakish angle', and so it is with mine.

        Commenter
        sspider
        Location
        melbourne
        Date and time
        June 27, 2012, 12:31PM
        • "A flower's not a flower if it's wilted.
          A hat's not a hat 'til it's tilted.
          You've either got, or you haven't got style."

          Thanks Rat Pack.

          Commenter
          DrMcKay
          Date and time
          June 27, 2012, 3:57PM
      • How about Newsboy/cheesecutter hats? I love them!

        Commenter
        shinobi
        Date and time
        June 27, 2012, 12:55PM
        • Absolutely - I love the flat cap. It's all kinds of awesome and extremely versatile.

          Commenter
          MC
          Location
          Melb
          Date and time
          June 27, 2012, 2:11PM
      • I love my hats, I never leave the house without one, whether it is a trilby, Hampton or Beret.

        A nice touch of class in an otherwise slowly degenerative society.

        Would be quite awesome to see a return of the fedora.

        Commenter
        Hoppo84
        Location
        Thirroul
        Date and time
        June 27, 2012, 1:35PM
        • Fedoras, from my experience, never went away.

          Commenter
          Greg Lewis
          Location
          Chippning Norton
          Date and time
          June 27, 2012, 2:20PM

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