Sartorial Love/Hate: Fedora

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sartorial-lh-fedora

I adore hats. I have quite a few of them but nowhere near the number I should like to own. For my next purchase, I am rather taken with the idea of a Homburg.

I haven’t always liked headgear. It is only due to recent maturation that I have taken to hat-aspiration. It was very hard to get excited about the kind of headwear that dominated the school and varsity scene; if it was a particularly chilly day, you wore a beanie. And despite the physical pleasure in wearing a head-warmer of this style, it is an amateurish design. No matter how luxurious brands like Burberry Prorsum upgrade the beanie to some vicuna-cashmere, hand-knitted deluxe tea-cosy, it will always be a beanie – no milliner worth their salt would acknowledge it as anything else.

The advantage of a beanie is that no one seems to find it particularly distracting or conspicuous. It barely alters the day’s ensemble; the silhouette remains the same. It is favoured by gentlemen of many a generation, chiefly because it is a cheap, effective and unobtrusive method of keeping warm. The problem? Well, it’s not exactly elegant. It doesn’t have the presence that other headgear offers; the rakish brims, the altered silhouettes. It is, by comparison, disappointingly anonymous.

A fedora, by way of contrast, is precisely the opposite. So noticeable are fedoras, hats that were worn by nearly every metropolitan gentleman just over half a century ago, that when I saw a fedora-wearing gentleman walking towards me on St James’ Street, more than six pairs of John Bull eyes turned and scrutinized the wearer. A gentleman no longer needs to wear an unusual hat to attract attention – he simply needs to wear a hat.

The fedora was a popular item of headgear in the early twentieth century, firstly for women and latterly for middle-of-the-road men. It was ubiquitous; on streets, in cinemas, on tradesmen, lawyers, screen stars and sportsmen. By the end of the 1950s, it was rarely seen as the fashion moved towards hats with smaller brims (for example, the trilby) to complement the clothing styles. By the mid-sixties, the writing was on the wall; JFK had been the first president not to wear a hat on distinctly ‘hat’ occasions and living with headgear had become not only unfashionable but undesirable. The only men still wearing fedoras into the late 60s and early 70s were of an older generation.

Those who wear fedoras love them but they can receive very different responses from others. When I wore a black fedora with a double-breasted jacket earlier on this year, one of the more pleasant responses I received was ‘Ahh, nice hat mate but…you don’t really need to wear one though? I mean, you’re still young.’ Other responses rhymed with ‘banker’, ‘glosser’ and ‘grass-mole’ and it made me consider that there are still plenty of people who are unwilling to allow the fedora to make any kind of renaissance.

I tend not to wear mine very much, which I greatly regret, due to it being such a ‘statement’ hat; it has nothing on my silk top hat or straw boater but, bizarrely, in their own context those models are apparently more tolerable – every mucker, irrespective of class or generation, wears a topper and boater to Ascot and Henley. The ‘statement’ about the hat is that it is an everyday item and that, if I chose to, I could wear it everyday as many millions of men before me once did.

As such, my fedora – a present from a dear relative who admired and cheered my interest in old fashions – sits on my shelf; dusty and rather sad; an unfortunate victim of sartorial love/hate.


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. Alex says:

    As a regular hat wearer, I must agree (and think a Homburg would be a great choice – I own a vintage Lock & Co Homburg and it’s wonderful).

    However, I must say that the JFK not wearing a hat story is just that – a story. The main event mentioned is at his inauguration, but he _did_ wear a top hat to it (and took it off during the speech, as did most presidents before him).

  2. Derrik Ollar says:

    Damn the natives…wear the hat!

  3. Náuticos Blancos says:

    I live in a little city in Spain. This year I bought my first hat, a black trilby. I’m sure people are going to see me as if I were an old-fashioned gentlemen. In my city people don’t accept others whith different tastes. I’m waiting for the cold to come, that way it will be less apparent.

  4. Patrick says:

    So difficult to pull off without looking affected or costumey. It would be nice to see more people wearing them. The trilbies and driving caps you see so often just seem so safe by comparison.

    I saw one article in GQ talking about how the next big thing are bowler hats, and I think it’s thanks to those guys that have the guts to wear what they want that we have so many options. Who knows, maybe tricornes will make a comeback!

  5. Barima says:

    “For my next purchase, I am rather taken with the idea of a Homburg.”

    You too, eh? Figures

  6. gary says:

    good pèoint

  7. Justin says:

    It’s taken me years to summon the self confidence to wear hats. I’ve had a tilley for a while now and for Christmas I was bought a beautiful quality fedora that I wear regularly. I’ve added a flat cap to the collection and rather fancy a trilby next.

    I really don’t care what others think any more and find hats to be eminently practical in our, often damp, climate. Most peoples comments have been complimentary and I wear my fedora whenever I have the chance.

    J.

  8. Mark says:

    I love fedoras. I wear one most of the time. Some people think I look like one of the blues brothers, others think I look very smart. I think a fedora complements a suit and completes the outfit. The question should be are you man enough to wear a fedora?

  9. Vic Luis says:

    well, my friend, here in Portugal i’m in my fourties and wear fedoras whenever i damned feel like it, and others reactions are of various natures as you have yourself experienced, but none of them makes me wear or not wear the fedoras. the only criteria for wearing or not wearing my hats is always one: my own! to the people who like and are gracious in appreciation, i thank the comments, to the people who don’t like and mock or demise me, i simply ask them if it was them who payed for the hat. that’s the enough argument for closing their yapps. so cheers! for your fedora and by all means, mate, wear it proudly and joyfully. V.L.

  10. Chris Grooms says:

    As a 27 year old male in a semi-small town outside of Charlotte North Carolina which borders several small towns with a very hick populace, I find it pretty hard to be “fashionable” in a sense that isn’t Abercrombie and Fitch. Though I’ve refused to wear one A&B ever in my life. As close as I get is Aeropostale or American and Eagle (polos or hoodies for example). I recently purchased a very nice Fedora, which Brad Pitt wore once. I love it, but I’m afraid to wear it in public. I love the look that makes you think “gangster” straight out of the movies of the early 1900s. I would love to be thought of as good looking, tall and fashionable if I wore it with a nice dressy button up shirt or pea coat possibly, but in this area of the world where most people dress pretty country, I’m not sure I have the self esteem to make it work and shrug off the insults.