Wall Street Journal’s “The Latest Hat Craze”

August 17, 2009

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Three years ago, before the purchase of the diary by Rupert Murdoch in 2007, we wouldn’t have had the pleasure to read this type of piece in the Wall Street Journal. It was too narrow, too finance-focused, and maybe a bit too seriousness-obsessed, to publish an article about the history of hats. And even though the development of the piece published this weekend in the Journal is not very pretentious, it is quite satisfying to see that such Institution is telling the story of the indisputable truth this blog is trying to enlarge: hats are back in the ring.

The piece, titled “The Latest Hat Craze”, begins with a nice reference to a not-necessarily current trend, which is the fact that wide brims are not very fashionable.

The so-called stingy-brim hat, with a brim 1½ inches wide, is considered more modern than those carrying standard 2½-inch widths, and straw versions have been big sellers this summer. “Our stingy brims are extremely strong right now,” says Don Rongione, chief executive of Bollman Hat, whose brands include Bailey and Kangol.

Trilbies, soft brimmed hats that sit just above the brow, and hats with an extreme pinch in the front or a colorful band are also popular. “Trilbies make up for approximately 30% of our hat range and sales continue to be strong year on year,”says Topman design director Gordon Richardson. “Most popular is our short-brimmed trilby, which is a young fashion take on a regular trilby.”

Then, it tells the history of the hat: 

Among the first hats distinguished by having a brim was the felt petasus or petasos of the Greeks and Romans, which tied under the chin, according to menswear historian Andy Gilchrist. In the 1600s, two types dominated: a low-crowned hat with a broad brim and a high-crowned, round hat made of beaver.

In 1797, English haberdasher John Hetherington made hat history by donning a beaver-fur felt hat so tall he was reportedly arrested for disturbing the peace. He was released and the top hat became the rage, says Alyce Cornyn-Selby, curator of the Hat Museum in Portland, Ore.

In the 19th century, new styles proliferated. There was the emergence of the Panama straw hat: Though they were made in Ecuador, the hat got its name via its passage through Panama, according to Tom Miller’s 1986 book “The Panama Hat Trail.” The hat’s popularity spread when the U.S. Army purchased 50,000 for soldiers to wear during the Spanish-American War and when Gold Rush prospectors used the hats for sun protection, Mr. Miller says.

In 1850 William Coke, a prominent landowner and farmer, commissioned a London hat shop to make a sturdy low-crowned hat to protect his gamekeepers’ heads from overhanging tree branches. Cheaper to produce than top hats, the bowler quickly became the hat of choice for men of all economic backgrounds, Ms. Cornyn-Selby says. In the 1889 version of French play “Fedora,” actress Sarah Bernhardt became the first woman to don one, popularizing the fedora with women.

By the 20th century, movie stars such as Gary Cooper and Humphrey Bogart were popularizing men’s fedoras, which remained in vogue throughout the 40s and 50s. 

Then the hats came off. “It’s fair to say [male hat wearing] declined in the 60s as longer hairstyles came into vogue,” says Bollman’s Mr. Rongione, who is also a former head of the Headwear Association. “Some attribute the decline to the automotive industry, the lower roofs in cars. Some say men who returned from World War II didn’t want to wear things on their head” after wearing helmets for so long. “Hatless Jack,” a 2004 book lamenting the decline, examines whether a hatless John F. Kennedy accelerated the trend.

Four decades later, menswear designers were flocking to retro-dandy looks. Giorgio Armani and Prada topped their models with brimmed hats for their Spring/Summer 2005 shows. A year later, brimmed hats turned up on the runways of Dior Homme and Yohji Yamamoto.

Soon, hats were appearing on the head of British rocker Pete Doherty and on the ’60s-era show “Mad Men,” says Michael Fisher, men’s editor at trend forecaster Stylesight. Initially limited to fashion-forward men who would don them with skinny jeans, their popularity has widened to a much broader swath of casual fashion-watchers, reflecting the growing willingness of men to adopt more stylish looks and accessories from the past.

“We wanted to add a touch of sophisticated modern classicism,” says Alessandro Sartori, creative director of Z Zegna, the sibling of Ermenegildo Zegna, which included hats in its Fall 2009 show.

In spite of the quality of the article written by Ray Smith, one of its commentators points out a revealing, yet obvious, fact: the history of the hat is not only the history of men’s hats. True is that women before the ‘60s fashion revolution didn’t wear hats very likely, since it was a symbol of the power and distinction manhood represented in society. However, now that this difference between men and women is extinct, women are an important reference of (to and for) the hat industry. Furthermore, this increasing restoration of the hat wearing is, in part, thanks to women and their outstanding use of it.

So it’s not only that hats are back on the street, as the Journal skillfully argues, but also that they are now an accessory designed for the whole of the population. With peculiarities, yes, with simplicities and differences, but made for every single resident of the world who wants to cover his or her brain in order to stand out over the others.

Oh, and please, don’t miss the slide show complementary to the article

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2 Responses to “Wall Street Journal’s “The Latest Hat Craze””

  1. Camilla said

    This is very nice blog. You should hype it more, because it is a gre idea. Keep posting.

  2. wathit said

    Fedora Hat For Men

    A Eager Quality For That Jaunty Happen!
    Do you expect to seem full when you go out?
    Do you assonant that coolheaded, snappy ornamentation endorsement?

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