Sunday, September 23, 2007

The New York Hats

The New York Times recently published an article about hats and hat shops in New York. Reading the article, you will find both the hip hop influence (pink homburg) as well as the classic fedora influence ("we can do better"). The two, while still very much at odds, are bringing about another resurgence of the fedora much like that found after the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" though today's comeback seems to be staying longer over numerous demographics and involves more people, both male and female. Frankly, I am very wary of the hip hop culture but for once I think it is doing something good even if the fedoras it sells are cheap and, in my personal view, ugly beyond belief. One day (we hope) those kids and young adults will acquire grown up tastes and will find something better than the Wal-Mart fedoras.

Here's the article.


From Harlem to Midtown for That Item to Top Off a Look

Published: September 22, 2007

I TAXIED up to Harlem in executive pursuit of a stylish lid with my buddy Michael Holman. The morning was cool because a rain front had blown through the night before. Litter swirled around like fall leaves on the wide concrete sidewalks. Holman, balding and bareheaded, was styling Malcolm X glasses, a green leather jacket and a two-day growth of beard.
“It all starts at the top,” he said, staring out the window and grinning.

The cab dropped us off at 146th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, a k a Seventh Avenue, next to a narrow storefront called Harlem’s Heaven. Holman groaned. The wares in the window were ornate, what he called “Sunday-go-to-meeting hats for ladies.” I knocked anyway, and a saleswoman named Danielle, with dreadlocks and a flashing smile, let us in.
“We do have some men’s hats,” Danielle said. “They’re in the back.”

That seemingly innocent remark set the tone for the rest of our quest. Before World War II, hats were an essential part of a man’s wardrobe. Look at photographs of Wall Street crowds in the 1920s and 1930s and you’ll see virtually every male wearing some type of hat, even if he was about to lose his shirt. In recent decades, however, men’s hats, other than baseball caps, have been all but forgotten in fashion.

From August 2006 to July 2007, sales of men’s headwear in the United States were slightly over $1.1 billion, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm. But more than 75 percent of those sales were caps as opposed to fedoras, homburgs and the like. By comparison, sales of women’s headwear, slightly over $1.2 billion, were split roughly 47 percent to 53 percent between caps and hats.

There are almost as many theories about the demise of men’s hats as there are full sizes and quarter sizes. Some hatters say that veterans of World War II and the Korean conflict were weary of military uniformity and shunned hats when they returned to civilian life. Some blame President John F. Kennedy, who wore a top hat to his inauguration but delivered his Inaugural Address bareheaded. Others cite automobiles, whose roofs made hats uncomfortable and unnecessary. My buddy Holman pinned it on the anti-establishment sentiment of the 1960s.
“Men’s hats symbolized the conformity of the 1950s, and the nonconformism of the 60s was a reaction against all that,” he observed as we browsed the back room at Harlem’s Heaven. “You also had men growing their hair long, and hats didn’t fit well with that. When you took off your hat, you got this rumpled ring around your head called ‘hat hair.’ ”

At 48, Holman exudes the kind of hipness I couldn’t affect in my wildest dreams. A filmmaker who teaches at Howard University in Washington, he is also a writer, a musician and a sartorial trendsetter. In 1979, he formed a rock band called Gray with the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; later, he was a co-author of a screenplay about Basquiate, filmed by Miramax. When performing on stage, Holman and his bandmates wore gray sharkskin suits and porkpie hats.

Despite statistical evidence to the contrary, Holman insists that men’s hats are coming back in style. I trusted his cultural judgment on its own merits and because we share an ancestral connection to Texas. His great-great-great-grandfather, William Holman, fought in the Texas war for independence from Mexico in 1836. A street in Houston, my hometown, is named for William Holman. “You and I are brothers from another mother,” Michael Holman joked.
Not surprisingly, the selection of men’s hats at Harlem’s Heaven was pretty slim. I tried on a wide-brimmed black homburg called the Godfather after the hat Al Pacino wore in the movie. Danielle said it made my face look fat. Holman recommended a blue fedora with a narrower brim. I liked it, too, but it was a Habig, imported from Vienna, and it cost $199, which was quite a bit more than I had planned to spend.

Holman insisted that we check out a store called Porta Bella on 125th Street a few doors down from the Apollo Theater. Its walls were decked with yellow, red and powder-blue zoot suits priced as low as $119. The equally colorful if rather meager stock of men’s hats was stashed in plastic bags in the back of the store. At Holman’s urging, I tried on a $10 pink fedora.
“Oh, man, that’s dope!” he exclaimed.
“Is that good?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Holman replied. “You’ve got to have that hat.”

Immediately upon striding back out onto 125th Street, I began to have second thoughts about the pink homburg. A tall, muscular fellow with a New York Yankees cap looked back over his shoulder at me and shook his head and chortled like I was some kind of circus clown. A woman in ragged clothes begged me to give her a dollar.

“This hat may be dope, but I feel like one,” I told Holman as we hailed another cab.
We taxied down to Worth & Worth at 45 West 57th Street. The firm, established in 1922, has provided hats for clients like William S. Burroughs and David Bowie. We were greeted in the sixth-floor showroom by the resident designer Orlando Palacios, 43, who was wearing a sleeveless shirt and a Stetson festooned with a black stenciled badge that read “Sex Pistols.” Like Holman, Orlando said that men’s hats were making a comeback.

“People want to step away from that cookie-cutter image,” he said. “A hat will change your whole look. It says you’re daring. It pulls people in.”
In addition to Stetsons, Worth & Worth features classic fedoras and homburgs with names like Fellini and Venezia. Orlando also makes custom hats, starting at $450. Holman fancied a vintage-style Donegal tweed cap known as an Applejack or a newsboy, priced at $65. I bought it for him in thanks for his shopping assistance, complimenting him with one of the few hipster terms in my vocabulary.
“You look fly,” I said.

Orlando suggested that I try on a butterscotch Prima Vera fedora made of rabbit and beaver fur. I appreciated the quality of the hand stitching but balked at the $375 price. “That hat’s just got way too much drama,” Holman whispered when Orlando was out of earshot. “And the brim is too wide for your face.”

A few minutes later, Holman and I arrived at Arnold Hatters at 535 Eighth Avenue. The proprietor, Arnold Rubin, 72, welcomed me with a knowing wink. The last time I had visited his store, I was about to have surgery to correct a hammertoe. With Arnold’s guidance, I picked out a chestnut cane to use after the operation as I recovered. This time, I donned my new pink homburg just to see how he would react.

“Looks like you’re walking pretty good,” Arnold said. “We can do better hat-wise.”
Arnold Hatters boasts an inventory of over 160 styles, some of them in as many as 24 colors. Among its celebrity customers are the actor Jimmy Smits, the rapper Ice T and the singer Janet Jackson, who bought a hat the previous Saturday. Arnold fitted me with a $120 navy blue felt fedora with a relatively narrow 2-inch brim, by Bailey of Hollywood.

I reached into the pocket of my blazer and pulled out a 3 1/2-inch steel pin tipped with a pearly white bulb. Arnold helped me stick it into the grosgrain band of the fedora. He asked where on earth I had found such an elegant hatpin. I told him the surgeon had inserted it into my foot to repair the hammertoe. Holman whistled softly.

“Now that is really dope,” he said.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Black Fleece Collection

An add-on to the last post about Thom Browne, Brooks Brothers has now released their "Black Fleece Collection" designed by Mr. Browne. I'll let you see it for yourself.


Let's see what you think.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Browne Way

Here's where we start getting into how vintage style affects today's fashion.

Thom Browne set up shop in New York in 2004. With this he began creating a different fashion for men, one that looked back at an older style (roughly from the late 1950s/early 1960s) and mixed it with a bold new look.

A slightly cut jacket with high trousers, thin lapels, a medium width tie and a sliver of pocket square showing. A very nice early 1960s look. But this photo is a bit deceiving.

Look at the photo below.
He's got a Pee Wee Herman thing going on and that is Thom Browne's trademark: short pants, no socks and, as this photo reveals, a jacket that is just a tad too short in both the skirt and the sleeves.

Why wear something that is too short and looks incredibly uncomfortable? Why look like a kid who doesn't know how to dress himself (while paying crazy prices to do so)?

'Cause it's the 'fashion' right now, to look dressy enough for work but casual enough for a good time afterward. Frankly, I find it quite ungainly and childish. But each to his own.

Style and fashion are two totally different ideas. Style is classic and lasts forever, like a vintage fedora, a nicely fitted suit or...socks. Fashion takes aspects from stylish clothing and messes with them, turning them into Frankenfashion that goes against the grain. Fashions last from fashion season to fashion season, until something 'new' and more 'fashionable' comes along. But style, style lasts.

Ugh. I'll take the overcoat but everything else is bad. Suit shorts? Well, at least he's a fan of sock garters, that is when he's wearing socks.

Here's a "New York Times" article about Thom Browne and his ilk.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Feelin' of the Season

This morning I felt a tinge of Fall in the air, the first time this year. Sure, there's still plenty of warm weather to be had but there's no reason why we can't look forward to cooler temperatures, when the style envolope is flung wide open after the slow summer season.

Ironic that over the weekend I was lucky enough to pluck this fantastic overcoat from a somewhat local junk shop.

At first it struck me as a woman's overcoat since it could be buttoned either left-over-right or right-over-left. The fancy adjustment belt on the back and the nipped waist also made me think "female".

But, thankfully, my first impressions were wrong. It is indeed a men's overcoat and a fancy one at that. Overall it weighs 6 pounds and is just over 4 feet long. Definitely not a woman's coat.

What this reminds me of is the type of coat you would often see in those stylized 1920's clothing advertisments where men have impossibly thin waists and long, skinny legs.

And as you can see in the picture, like those old advertisments suggest, the waist is exceptionally thin! Several darts above the pockets and in the back create the thinning shape that you see. You won't see many overcoats like this one anymore. It is completely outdated, which makes it a beautiful thing.

And it was not a common man's overcoat, no, it was meant to be worn to formal occasions by someone who could afford it. The huge, deep peaked lapels convey power as does the double breasted construction. The back belt adds a bit more flare to an already stylish coat. The nipped waist shows off the wearer's athletic build. And it does all of this while keeping the owner warm on a frosty day.

What would you pay for such a coat? Probably quite a bit, especially if it fit well. However, you'll be amazed to know that I handed over a sinlge Hamilton to add this overcoat to my budding collection. This speaks volumes. Yes, there still are good deals out there just waiting to be had. And you don't have to pull your hair out dealing with Ebay.

Just frequent so-called 'junk shops' A.K.A. thrift stores. Antique shops also have good finds occasionally, though they may be overpriced. Some of the nicest things are pulled out of the deepest, darkest most dirty corners of the junkiest places. This overcoat is a testament to that. All you need is a wee bit of patience.

And, if you're wondering what I wore today here's (unfortunately) a poor quality photo. The suit is modern, 100% wool, has a beautiful blue plaid pattern and was found at a local Goodwill. The tie is vintage 1950s, shoes are Botany 500's and the hat is a vintage 1950s Royal Stetson.

So, here's to a new coming season. May you enjoy the cooler weather and the beautiful colors. Cheers from a happy camper.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Fedora at a Glance

When you hear about men's vintage fashion what is the first thing that pops into your mind?

Chances are it's a picture of a fedora, maybe Indiana Jones' now famous head topper. Fedoras are iconic. They represent a bygone era of style and, for many, of mystery.

Unfortunately for too many today, especially the younger generation, anyone wearing a fedora is a "pimp" or Indy. The fedora has been bastardized. The original context of the fedora is more or less forgotten and like many things today fedoras have become part of popular culture. Wal-Mart sells cheap 'gangsterized' fedoras to the in crowd; movie and music stars wear a variety of fedoras in trendy ways. Yet this new trend of fedora wearing (even if they are cheap and ugly) may be ushering in a new era of fedora wearing. Many of the kids who are wearing the cheap Wal-Mart fedoras today will discover real, classic fedoras tomorrow. Wearing fedoras is on the rise...

The trendy stingy brimmed hats of today's popular culture will decide whether the classic fedoras of yesteryear will return for good or fade from our memory once again.

Let's not kid ourselves, wearing fedoras will never reach the level that it did back in the early part of the last century. That is quite unfortunate. Even so, it allows a small 'cliche' if you will to strive. Imagine if everyone began wearing classic fedoras again. The supply of vintage beauties would dry up, leaving us fedora enthusiasts at the mercy of modern production fedoras which, at the moment, are horribly lacking in the quality of felt, construction and often shape. This, however, may change in the near future.

Well, I've rambled on about fedoras long enough. Perhaps you would like to see some of my own fedoras? Of course you would.

Here is a family photo of my fedora collection as of three months ago. All of the hats shown are vintage, dating from the 1930s to the 1970s. I am a fan of the larger brim and higher crown with little to no taper.

Nothing overly spectacular. Front right is a Penny's Marathon. Front center is a Stetson panama. The brown fedora on the left in the second row is a well used Portis from the 1930s. The gray hat in the very middle is a Churchill I use as my everyday hat and the blue fedora to the right is a Royal Stetson.

Of course I've added hats since that photo was taken.

Here is a rare white Mallory I recently added to the collection.

It has ventilation in the crown!

Here's a silverbelly Stetson 'Open Road' that was originally from my great great-grandfather's clothing store.

J.C. Petersen Co.

"A boy can buy as cheap as a man."

Last but not least is this Champ given to me by a friend. It looks very much like a Stetson 'Whippet'.

As you can see there are many different styles of fedoras that suit any type of face. I've heard many men say "I'd love to wear a fedora but I think they just look silly on me". Pish posh! Either they did not find the right fedora or they weren't use to how it looked. Anyone with a face can look dapper in a fedora if they wear the right one in the right way. Take a look at the link below if you need help finding/wearing a fedora that suits you. If you're a young trendy guy you might consider a Stingy fedora (with a brim 2" or less); if you're into a more classic look go with a wider brimmed hat.

Miller Hats

This isn't the last time we'll take a look at fedoras but it is enough to get us started off.


Monday, September 3, 2007

The First Post is Always the Most Difficult

Welcome to my new blog. This isn't my first and probably won't be my last.

However, while my other blogs focus mainly on politics, firearms and life in general this blog is special.

This blog will specifically focus on classic men's clothing. Everything from suits to hats, shoes and more will be touched on in this blog. Vintage (1930s-1950s) style is my area of focus but I will also point out where the vintage affects (or in some cases is completely ignored by) modern style.

My knowledge of classic style or any style for that matter is quite limited so this will be a learning experience for both author and reader alike. As such, your experience and help is much appreciated. Let's learn together.



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