“When the news is dark and the walls are closing in its easy to slide into the dark corners of your mind. Find something you enjoy and be absorbed in it…. your soul will thank you.” — Brian Tunks
Become absorbed in something I enjoy? Well, I’ve been collecting hats from different parts of the world for many years now. Partly, that’s because I’m bald and I need a head covering, but mostly it’s because I just love the beauty of a superbly designed lid. I also like hats that have stories attached to them. So I’m taking Brian Tunks’ advice and allowing myself to be absorbed in it.
So, here are some photos of my hat collection along with my guide to male headwear. I hope you see something you like.
The Basque Beret
Apparently, they’ve been wearing berets in Northern Europe since the Bronze Age. The Basque-style beret was the preferred headgear of shepherds from the Aragon and Navarra regions between Southern France from northern Spain. As a result, by the 20th century, berets were associated with the French and Spanish working classes. They’re made from wool, felted to make it water resistant. The crown is turned inward at the edge and fitted with a leather band. Modern versions are often lined with satin. Mine is a black beret topped with the traditional short stem (made in France by Cipan), which pretty much epitomizes the stereotypical headwear of all Frenchmen. I can’t wear it without someone saying, “Ooh la la.”
The Braid Trilby
A braid hat can be of any style, but made with the custom woven Toyo braid. They are a variation on the panama hat, which was made from plaited or braided leaves, bleached white, and topped with a silk band. Like the panama, a braid is lightweight, breathable, easy to wear, and perfect for tropical destinations.
Mine is a modern trilby silhouette made by the legendary hatmakers, Bailey of Hollywood, founded by George Bailey in 1922. The name trilby derives from an 1890s stage play about a woman named Trilby O’Ferrall. The villain in the play wore a hat of this style and soon London hat sellers were promoting it as “the Trilby hat”.
I bought this one in a mall in Long Beach, California, on my way to a vacation in New Orleans. If you’re after a hat, you’d have trouble going past the extensive range at Bailey’s.
The Bucket Hat
Bucket hats made a comeback in the ’90s, going from a humble fisherman’s hat to hipster cool. Made from heavy-duty cotton fabrics such as denim and canvas, or wool blends like tweed, bucket hats feature a wide, downward-sloping brim that resembles an inverted bucket.
My bucket hat is a khaki version made by the nautical shoe company Sperry. I don’t know much about shoes, but apparently Paul Sperry made his name back in 1935 with his boater-style footwear. Since then the Sperry top-sider brand has ended up on all kinds of boating apparel, including hats like this one.
I found it in a store in Florida, but had second thoughts and put it back. Older guys in bucket hats look more like humble fishermen than hipsters. Later, however, I saw a very dapper-looking dude wearing it around the shop and it looked good on him. I was filled with shopper’s regret. But then, while we were both lined up at the counter, he had second thoughts and discarded it on a nearby shelf. The rest is (personal) history.
I bought this bad boy at a haberdashery store on Congress Ave in Austin, Texas, with my mate Lance Ford, and it’s one of the best in my collection. Lance took me there knowing I’d be in seventh heaven.
London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler might have invented the hat named after them, but the American Wild West perfected it, which is why you’ve gotta go to Texas to get the best. The Texans call them derbies, and they were hugely popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries, worn by everyone from Butch Cassidy to Stan Laurel, and from Charlie Chaplin to A Clockwork Orange and Cabaret.
Admittedly, there are limited opportunities to wear a derby today. I tend to pull it out for weddings. But no serious hat collection is complete without one.
This one is 100% felt wool, with satin lining. Made in the USA by Scala with felt sourced in the Czech Republic.
This is one of my most worn lids. I’m really fond of it. I bought it in a vintage store while I was mooching around Cape Town, South Africa, with my friend Alan Hirsch, four or five years ago. It’s a Pierre Cardin velour plaza, branded by Hariton’s Men’s Outfitters in Wynberg (which, incidentally, is Alan’s home town).
The fedora is sometimes confused with a trilby, but they are a bit different. Fedoras generally have a wider brim than the trilby, which has a taller crown, and is frequently worn on the back of the head.
Back in the day, the fedora used to be uber-stylish, but these days it’s often associated with 1920s gangsters and tourists in cheap straw versions (ugh). So, if you’re gonna wear one, please wear a really good one like this. And when you do wear it, remember Frank Sinatra’s advice, “Cock your hat – angles are attitudes.”
The Fedora (wide brim)
Like a standard fedora, this version has the fixed crown, indented with a centre crease and pinched on both sides. But instead of the stingy brim, it has a wide, flat brim, usually 5 to 7 centimetres, that can be bent slightly upward or downward. I wear mine turned up.
This is a beautiful hat, one of my favourites. Made from soft Australian wool felt, with a nice full brim and a natural leather band, it’s ethically and sustainably handmade by Aussie hatmakers, Will & Bear. And they’re not only fair trade, they’ve also partnered with www.trees.org to plant 10 trees for every hat sold so I can feel slightly virtuous when I’m wearing it.
A französin is a French alpine hat similar to the tyrolean hat, although a tyrolean is usually made from green felt and festooned with feathers or badges (see below). The French are more stylish than that, but the Französin still has the high turned brim at the back, the pointed peak, and the lofty crown.
This one is in chocolate brown felt and made not in France, but Australia, by the famous Akubra company. It does strike me as strange that the only Akubra in my collection is a French style hat.
It’s said the französin was the precursor to the homberg and I can definitely see it in the tall rounded crown and curling brim.
I bought it in a vintage store in Blackheath in Australia’s Blue Mountains. I didn’t need another hat, frankly, but as soon as I saw it I knew it had to join my hat rack. I don’t wear it as often as I should. You need to be really dressed up for a hat as elegant as this.
The Ivy Cap
The ivy cap, also known as the flat cap, is hugely popular these days. It is often confused with the newsboy (see below), which is fuller and has panels and a button. The ivy cap, on the other hand, has a low profile with a slightly rounded top that extends to the front of the hat and is sewn to the bill. Sometimes the bill sticks out a little for a different look while at other times the crown and bill are perfectly matched.
This cap was a gift from one of my daughters. She bought it in Melbourne, and it gets a lot of compliments, almost entirely from women. In fact, I think only one man has ever told me he likes it, and he said that was because it reminded him of his grandmother’s couch. Okay, sure, it looks a bit like an old lady’s upholstery, but I don’t care. It’s jaunty and kinda happy. And women really like it.
The Knit Cap
A lot of people mistakenly refer to the knit cap as a beanie, but technically a beanie is made from triangular panels of material joined by a button at the crown and seamed together around the sides. A knit cap is knitted (as the name implies) and tapered at the top.
There are various names for this kind of knitted winter hat. In Canada, they call it a tuque, from the Breton French word toque, meaning hat. In Scandinavia, where they usually add a pom-pom, they call it a top cap (Danish tophue, Norwegian topplue, Swedish toppluva), while in Britain the pom-pom variety is called a bobble cap. Other names for knitted caps include woolly hat, sock hat, knit hat, poof ball hat, bonnet, sock cap, stocking cap, tossle cap, skullcap, ski hat, burglar beanie, watch cap, snookie, sugan, or chook.
This thick cable-knit rib cap by Arvust is a handsome example of the knit cap. Just don’t call it a beanie.
The newsboy cap is the king of flat caps like the ivy, the cheesecutter, the duckbill and the ascot. A newsboy has 6 or 8-quarter panels that form into a fuller, rounder hat than those other caps. It is typically finished with a button on top and sometimes it will have a snap on the brim.
I bought this one in a quaint haberdashery in Marburg, Germany, on a freezing autumn day while my wife and I were wandering the undulated cobbled streets of that pretty little town. It is a beautiful hat and I wear it often. It’s an eight-parter with herringbone pattern, from Stetson, made under contract by Friedrich Schneider & Co, hat-makers in Oskar-Schindler Strasse, Cologne.
The Pith Helmet
This pith helmet was made by the Chop Sin Yin Leong Company in Singapore, who still make them, mainly for tourists. Up until the 1950s, they were standard wear for any Europeans traveling in the tropics, from Henry Stanley to Laurence of Arabia to Winston Churchill.
“Pith helmet” is a generic term for a hard hat made from shola pith, a dried milky-white spongey plant matter which was pressed and shaped into a hat design. There are various versions of them – the high crowned colonial, the multi-banded Wolseley pattern, the Home Service helmet, the American elephant hat, and this one, the Bombay bowler.
I can see why they were popular. This one is really light. It’s cotton-lined and quite comfortable with the leather headband buffered from the hat itself by cardboard, allowing it to stretch slightly.
Do I ever wear it? No way! It’s a symbol of European colonialism and associated with the worst excesses of the British Raj in India, the Anglo-Zulu War, the Belgian atrocities in the Congo, the Spanish in the Philippines, and the Dutch in the East Indies. It’s a curiosity piece not a fashion item.
The Pork Pie
Called the pork pie because it looks like that doughy English delicacy, this is a flat-topped oval hat with a stingy turned up brim. They first appeared in the late 19th century, but became popular after comedian Buster Keaton made it his signature look in the 1920s.
The heyday of the pork pie hat occurred during the Great Depression, but they have an enduring quality, becoming cool again in the 1940s when the black community teamed them with zoot suits; in the 1950s with The Honeymooners; in the 1960s with the Jamaican “rude boy” subculture in the UK; in the 1970s when Gene Hackman and Robert De Niro each wore one in The French Connection and Mean Streets respectively; in the 1980s when Tom Waits pulled one on; and more recently, when Walter White’s alter ego Heisenberg wore one in Breaking Bad.
This one is a bit unusual. Most pork pie hats are black, but this is a cream-coloured summer hat made entirely from paper. It’s like a cross between a pork pie and a boater. And it’s as light as a feather. And cheap. I paid eight bucks for this bad boy at a local Salvos store.
The baseball cap started off as simple five-panel cap with a long bill and an adjustable strap. Originally, they were only worn as part of baseball team uniforms, but soon fans started sporting them and they became a standard part of a team’s supporter paraphernalia, eventually becoming a fashion accessory in their own right. Jay Z claims he made the Yankees cap more famous than the Yankees.
The snapback was a further iteration as hatmakers kept the general design, including the adjustable fastener at the back, but dispensed with the baseball insignia. Nowadays, snapbacks are worn by cap connoisseurs and cool kids all over the world. Other variations include the trucker hat (like mine, which includes mesh panels at the back), and the dad hat (which has a more relaxed, oversized fit).
That said, I’m not a big wearer of the snapback. This one is by the Aussie motorcycle sales company Deus Ex Machina, branded with their Venice Beach address.
The trapper is an American variation on the Russian ushanka (see below), a warm cap with a fold-down ear covering. This is the genuine article, made by the legendary Stormy Kromer Company in Milwaukee. I found it in a darkened thrift store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the middle of a snowstorm. It’s like God knew what a numpty I was when it comes to winter wear and had it waiting for me when I walked in.
The red plaid six-panel wool blend cap, with its flannel lining, keeps the noggin nice and warm, while the ingenious pull-down earband keeps the ears from freezing off. I wore it hiking in the snow near the Grand Tetons and fitted right in with the locals. Well, the hat did. I wasn’t fooling anyone.
I found this lovely little Planar-Merino 100% wool tyrolean in a vintage store in Portland, Oregon. It was buried under a pile of bags and had been crushed completely out of shape, and was covered in lint and dust. I paid peanuts for it and loved it back into its former glory.
Originally worn in the mountainous Tyrol region, in what is now part of Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, a typical tyrolean had a crown tapering to a point and was made of green felt with a brim roughly the width of a hand. They were often finished, as this one is, with a white cord band, feathers and badges.
Planar-Merino hats were really popular from the 1950s. I’m not sure how old this one is, but I get more compliments for this lid than any I own. Strangers have walked up to me in the street and offered to buy it from me.
This extraordinary piece of headwear came into my possession in the most unlikely way. I was eating lunch with friends when a woman approached us to tell us she had been clearing out her late father’s house and had come across some strange hats. She then produced this ushanka and what looked like a vintage European train conductor’s hat and asked if we would like to take them off her hands. One friend took the conductor’s hat and I claimed this baby.
Strange, I know.
A ushanka is a Russian fur cap with ear flaps, similar to what the Americans call a bomber or trapper hat. This one is pretty old and has a hard leather exterior and very soft fur trim (maybe fox) with a quilted cotton lining. The label is in Chinese and says it was made at the Xinjiang Leather & Fur Factory, which is in the far northwest of China, near Mongolia. Other than that I don’t know anything about its provenance, but I really like it. And it’s ridiculously warm.
I hope you saw a hat that interests you. Maybe it’s time for you to start a hat collection. Or to at least buy one cool hat (other than a baseball cap). Don’t worry what other people think. If you love the hat, wear it with confidence.
As designer, Philip Treacy once said, “The personality of the wearer and the hat makes the hat.”