The hat- As dead as a dodo or to return like a Phoenix?

Hat wearer Henderson (photo credit: Narrowing the Field)
Hat wearer Henderson (photo credit: Narrowing the Field)

At the age of six, after a furious strop about ice cream, I wore my first brimmed hat. I was in the unrelenting heat of the Algarve in August and yearning a cone. Mother said “no” and I, like every other six year old, took the news as if the world was ending. Knees, sandals, tears, and sand created an orgy of sounds and thrashing sights. The dear old Portuguese didn’t know what to make of this English brat in red shorts, wailing as they sipped on their cool afternoon beers.

My father did.

He strode over to his sulking son and plopped onto my round head his Sweat soaked Panama. I stopped as the oversized lid covered my eyes. Like a young Sinatra, I knocked back the brim and rested it delicately on my basin cut. My pride swelled. This was my grand entrance to the world of hats.

I have since worn, begged, borrowed, (yet never stolen) a vast array of chapeaus. My favourite will always be the classic trilby. A timeless piece of millinery that is probably the most ubiquitous of all formal hats. It combines sartorial elegance and an unparalleled versatility; often seen at Cheltenham races or at Glastonbury.

The hat’s name derives from the stage adaptation of George du Maurier’s 1894 novel Trilby. During the first London production of the play, a hat of this style was worn, and it promptly came to be called a Trilby hat. It’s narrower and turned ends soon overtook its elder and sterner predecessor (and co-conspirator) the fedora.

A classic trilby chap would naturally gravitate to towards a panama when the sun and the green shoots begin to appear. The panama originated as a workers hat in South America, but is now a mainstay of any Englishman’s summer apparel.

Alas, in 2014, we sit here unable leave home in an expensive hat. I even feel unable to nip out to the local for a quick snifter, without a cluster of judging eyes. A hat wearer is now pigeon holed into the sector of the eccentric or famous. Yet the owner of the dreaded baseball cap can parade around town with purple and gold on top and blend seamlessly into the crowd. Often worn indoors, the baseball cap has become the casual hat of choice. Last week I saw an exquisitely dressed man in Knightsbridge ‘cap off’ his suit with a ghastly American cap. I felt as

My theory on the loss of the brimmed hat as an extension of the wearers character comes down to two reasons; haircuts and eclecticism. The 70’s and 80’s left their indelible nylon stain on time. With the loud clothes came a freedom, a beautiful freedom to express, especially with hair. Men eschewing the pomade and joining women with buckets of gels and sprays. So, if one has spent time on styling their hair, why hide it under a hat? My second theory on the absence of the town hat comes from the eclectic life we all live. The internet has enabled the world to become one- it is not unusual for a city boy to like African music, a shelf stacker to like opera etc…the snobbery of the world has broken down. People are defined less by birth, jobs, and intellect. It is harder to define what or who people are buy the cut of one’s jib. We all break the rules of fashion and wear what we feel goes together instead.

There are, however, a few glimmers of hope for Team Trilby. This optimism comes in the form of a woollen cap, known the world over as a flat cap. As I stated earlier, I own and underuse a lot of beautiful hats all seasons round. During the cold winter months, I wear a Harris tweed hat nearly every day. Though plentiful in the countryside, it was a rare sight three years ago in London. I used to loyally stride along in a warm headed joy, occasionally receiving a clandestine nod from a fellow wearer. My fellow wearers were usually gentlemen in their autumn years, though all of us equally snug and smug. There has recently been an upsurge in the flat cap in London, in all ages and social spheres. It is now an acceptable and unremarkable garment to be seen in the cold.

Why has the flat cap been embraced by the cynics and the trilby perpetually scorned? Perhaps it is the versatility of the cloth. One can have a full on toad of toad hall to match their splendid red trousers or a more modern man could, perhaps, have a sleeker monochrome cap. Either way I am happy that there are objects on heads!

There has been an upsurge in gentleman’s fashion in recent times, the ‘mad men effect’ sparking of a flurry of three piece suits, bespoke shirts, and proper honest haircuts in the city. I can see no reason why gents oughtn’t include a little headpiece with it. The answer is fear of breaking the mould and leaving the current slipped standards when it comes to headwear. The umpires in cricket don’t even have to wear their fake Panamas or, at the very least, a white cloth cap.

Standards slipped because we, the people, allowed them to slip. There will always be hat wearers. people will still wear hats last hats either ironically or because it is the correct time and place. I look forward to horse racing meetings in my T, Lord’s in my Panama, and having recently acquired a boater- Henley regatta.

I feel that we are in purgatory- the hat is definitely not dead but it will never return to its glory days of bankers in bowlers. Tears do well up in this old goats eyes, due to the small resurgent revolution of people like me and the characters I see. Halcyon will stay in the past but hats will be seen much more readily than before.

However, for now the February clouds are beginning to bruise and the winds are billowing along the Thames. I am preparing to leave home and look to my trilby in hope. I pick it up and wear it for a moment, a scintilla of joy floods me. I remove it and replace it with the old faithful flat cap.

Trilby, I will see you at Cheltenham, I will see you when I have a touch of grey and a wizened smile.

Long live the hat, wear a hat, and wear it with pride.

Keep the flag flying!


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