Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Good Hat

The story is that John F. Kennedy killed the hat. If you ever watch old movies, you will notice that all of the men always wear hats while outside. It isn't just movie fiction: through the 1950s, most men would have felt partially dressed if they ventured outdoors wearing a suit but no hat. Kennedy didn't like hats -- hats would have covered up his world-class hair, after all -- and he didn't wear them. At his inauguration, he wore a morning suit and carried top hat; but he didn't wear it, even though it was one of the coldest Inauguration Days on record. Supposedly, Kennedy dislike of the hat caused hat sales to plummet as American men imitated him, just as sales of undershirts supposedly plummeted after Clark Gable appeared without on in It Happened One Night in 1934. I suppose that it's possible that the story is true, at least to some extent, but it strikes me as being a little too, well, Just-So-like. I suspect that men's hats would have fallen on hard times in the '60s and '70s even without Kennedy's antipathy.

This is unfortunate, at least as far as I'm concerned. Baseball caps -- one of the few culturally-approved kinds of headwear nowadays -- are fine, at least if you're playing baseball or golf or something like that. In any other context, they look juvenile, inappropriate, and stupid. More than that, they really don't do what I need hats to do. I'm fair enough that merely thinking about the sun gives me a sunburn, and I'm folically-challenged. (And believe me, a sunburn on the top of one's head is not the most pleasant thing in the world.) I need a hat that will shade by head, face, and neck and one that will keep my head warm when it's cold outside. Baseball caps can't do these things. And so I decided to get a real hat.

Upon recommendations from Will from A Suitable Wardrobe (whose hat is pictured above) and others, I gave Art Fawcett of Vintage Silhouettes a call. By reputation, Art is one of the two best hatters in the United States (Graham Thompson of Optimo Fine Hats is the other). He's based in Butte Falls, Oregon and is a former master mason who developed a love for fedoras and decided to do a career change. It's clear from talking with him on the phone that hats are his passion. I decided to give him a try and PayPaled him a deposit. He in turn sent me a hat conformer, a contraption that allows a hatter to get the shape and size of a client's head. In the olden days, these things looked like top hats made out of round bar, but the modern one that he sent me is a clear plastic disc with tabs secured by wingnuts around the edge. An elastic band runs around the edge of the tabs. You put your head through the disc, which pushes the tabs into the shape of your head, then secure them in place by wingnuts. I have done this and will send it back to Art today. Right now, I'm thinking of a porkpie in charcoal beaver felt with a low-contrast ribbon. I'm not sure about whether I want the brim edge to be bound or not, but I don't think that I have to make that decision now. The hat should be ready by Christmas.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Check out the book Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora, and the History of an American Style by Neil Steinberg. Kennedy did wear his tophat on inauguration day in 1961; there are plenty of photos showing him doing so, but not during his speech.