On May 22 Stephen asked: "I'm thinking of beginning a small [hat] collection do you have any suggestions?".
After much delay and preparation I can now answer his question.
But where to start? Like most things in the world, this topic has hundreds if not thousands of details that could be explored. I think for now we'll just get into the basics.
So we'll start at the beginning. The first thing to decide is what kind of hat you would like to get. A fedora? Homburg? Maybe a classic Boater? Panama? Perhaps a Derby? Each one has it's own time and place.
The fedora is the most readily available and most useful since it can be worn to both casual and semi-formal events in weather warm and cold, wet and dry. Homburgs and derbies are more formal. Boaters can also be casual or formal, though they are only worn during warm weather, just like the Panama.
We'll stick with the fedora in this post.
Alrighty, so you're looking for a fedora. You can go modern or vintage (vintage being pre-1970, modern being post-1970). The rule of thumb is that construction material of vintage hats will be superior to that of modern hats. It is widely accepted by hat enthusiasts that the last year of high-quality fur felt was 1968. After 1968 the quality of the felt began to decline and the affects can be seen today.
Why the decline in quality after 1968?
New laws and regulations restricted manufacturing processes, thereby hurting the quality. Before 1968 the felt-making process used many harmful chemicals like mercury to plump and thicken the fur, making it dense and soft. Today since that process is no longer used hatters must make the felt thicker and use more chemical stiffener to make up for the difference. Hence the usual poor quality felt found today.
So, when looking at felt quality always remember that vintage beats modern nearly all the time. Of course, there are also fedoras made of wool felt, but wool is even worse quality than fur felt. Wool hats are alright and make fine, usually cheap beginner hats but don't last as long, wear as well or look as nice as fur felt.
I prefer vintage.
It's good to know your hat size, too. Click here to find your hat size.
Now, you're looking for a vintage fedora. What style? Again, there are thousands of styles and it can be difficult to choose. The style needs to match your face and you must like it.
Click here to visit a website that will help you find a style that matches your head shape. Of course, the best way to find the right style is to go out and try on some hats! Look at yourself in a mirror and decide which hat looks best on your head. Ask others what they think. Shop around. Investigate.
And to help you understand some of the different styles I'll go into a few details, though not too many at first. I've thrown a lot at you already.
First we'll look at the crown. You know, the top part of the hat that encloses your head.
Each crown has a certain amount of taper to it. Taper is much (or how little) the sides of the crown lean in towards the middle. Below is an example of a fedora from the 1960s. Look at the bottom of the ribbon where the crown meets the brim and slowly move your eyes upward. Notice how the crown gets narrower as you eyes move towards the top of the crown. This hat has a lot of crown taper. This was the style beginning in the 1960s.
Another way to measure crown taper is to draw two lines along the sides of the crown. This shows the taper very well.
Now look at this hat from the 1940s. Note that it has a taller crown than the 1960s hat above and it has no taper, perhaps even a bit of reverse taper (where the crown sides expand outward toward the top). This was the style from the 1920s-1950s.
Hat's also have taper in the side profile. The late-1920s/early-1930s style hat below has neutral taper since the sides of the crown are perfectly vertical. Again, neutral taper was very common from the 1920s to the 1950s, specifically durin the 1920 and 1930s.
Brims, like crowns, changed quite a bit. Brims can be as narrow as 1" or as wide as 3". Hats with brims 2" wide or less are often called Stingy Brims. Stingies were the common style starting in the 1960s and are still popular today. Before the 1960s brims were wider. Classic brim widths from the 1930s were 2 1/4" and 2 1/2". During the 1940s they often went from 2 1/2" to 3" before slimming back down during the 1950s and entering the Stingy era of the 1960s.
Here are the eras, beginning in the 1920s and ending with the 1960s, and the corresponding aspects of fedoras. Note that these were the most popular styles of the times and there are always exceptions to the rules.
-Tall crowns with neutral or reverse taper. 4 1/2" or taller.
-Medium width brims. 2 1/4" to 2 1/2" wide.
-Tall crowns with neutral or reverse taper. 4 1/2" or taller.
-Medium width brims. 2 1/4" to 2 1/2" brims were the rule until the late 1930s.
-Tall to medium crowns with little to some taper. 4 1/4" to 5" tall.
-Medium to wide brims. 2 1/2" to 3".
*1950s -Beginning to get lower with more taper. 4" to 4 1/2" tall.
-Back to 1930s-style brim widths. 2 1/4" to 2 1/2" wide.
-4" tall crown or less.
-2 1/4" wide brims or less.
Here are some good places to begin looking for modern fedoras:
The best place to look for vintage hats is antique malls and shops. Not only are a lot of hats be priced less than $20 but you get to try them on, hold them and examine them.
Ebay is another place but expect to pay quite a bit for a good hat and you don't get to see it in person before you buy. There are also some sellers who aren't the greatest, so be careful and good luck.
This post is the first of who knows how many about what to look for in a hat. It'll take some times to explain this extensive topic so check back once in a while, I might have posted something new. There's a lot more to come.
WHY do men behave so badly nowadays? I know that the question has been asked for more than 2500 years, but it just so happens that, this time, it is entirely apposite. The explanation came to me a few months ago in a blinding flash of illumination: the hat. To the hat, or rather to the lack of one, is to be traced the source of all our ill-deportment.Bare heads or heads accoutred in the wrong kind of headgear cause our want of self-respect and therefore our want of respect for others. What we need, therefore, is more hats: proper ones, from cloth caps to trilbies, homburgs, bowlers and toppers.
This revelation came to me in a peculiar way. For years I have bought Victorian era jewellery from a Birmingham, England, jeweller, David Johnson, and he happened to invite me one day to the opening of the new premises of the hat shop he had inherited from his mother, a milliner for more than 60 years. Johnson, developing the family tradition, had decided to branch out into men's hats.
Reflecting on hats, it suddenly occurred to me how much more difficult it was to behave badly in a proper hat and how much easier to be polite in one. I recalled the days of my childhood during which most men wore a hat and I remembered that my father, who was not always the most considerate of men, never failed, in a gesture of genuine politeness, to raise his hat to someone whom he knew. Indeed, the etiquette of hats was drummed into me as a child as being a stage in the taming of the natural savage.
Johnson, too, remembered the age of hats, a gentler age than our own, when men would remove them to acknowledge a passing hearse. A hat, like a cane, gives dignity to a man's bearing, but at the same time affords him the opportunity to practise a little ceremonial. This ceremonial is by definition the recognition of the right of others to due consideration.
The wrong kind of headgear, however, conveys another message entirely. A baseball cap is almost incompatible with an impression of dignity or intelligence and those whose peaks are pulled over the eyes intimidate, as they are no doubt intended to intimidate. The same is true of the hoods that young men pull over their heads and the woollen beanies that cling to their shaven scalps. No ceremonial or recognition of others is possible with this kind of headgear.
Of course, everything depends on cultural context. At one time Hitler wore proper hats (though he seems to have abandoned them as soon as he attained absolute power), as did Chicago gangsters and the politburo of the Soviet Union when it assembled on top of Lenin's mausoleum. Proper hats are thus no guarantee of moral rectitude.
Yet the ethical and social significance of hats has been widely acknowledged. Kemal Ataturk forbade the fez and Gamal Abdel Nasser the tarboosh. The point is not whether they were right to do so but that they believed, by instinct no doubt, that what people put on their heads affected the way they behaved and thought about the world.
Ataturk and Nasser were revolutionaries and they despised their own societies as they had come down to them; they thought that nothing would change until people adopted different headgear, as Peter the Great thought that Russia would remain Muscovy until the upper classes donned European dress.
Communist leaders such as Mao Zedong, Kim Jong-il and Nicolae Ceausescu all affected the workman's cloth cap, though of a subtly different design from real workmen's caps, for, like Princess Diana, they wanted to be simultaneously of the people and completely, metaphysically distinct from them.
Sese Seko Mobutu wore headwear made of leopard skin to imply power and prowess as well as an ability to pounce suddenly and unexpectedly, as leopards do. Leopards are often invisible to their prey until it is too late for them to escape and in Zaire it was widely believed that Mobutu had the power to make himself invisible.
Irrespective of the meaning of proper hats in times gone by, we always live in our own social and cultural context, and the fact is that certain kinds of hats do convey civility and others convey incivility. If you doubt it, conduct a little thought experiment.
You are walking down a dark street at night and a man approaches you wearing a proper hat. Do you fear him as much as you would a man who is wearing a hood or a baseball cap that covers his brow and eyes?
We have become browbeaten by the absurd, dangerous and uncivilised doctrine that if some instances of discrimination are morally reprehensible, all instances of discrimination are morally reprehensible.
A pub in Shropshire recently banned customers from wearing farmer's caps as well as the baseball caps, beanies and hoods that had so often spelled violent trouble, though no one expects trouble from someone wearing a farmer's cap. The fear of being called discriminatory paralyses sensible judgment.
It would be a most interesting study to establish whether an aggressive, hood-wearing young man became less aggressive once shorn of his hood. I suspect that he would.
It may be, of course, that nice men wear hats and nasty men wear hoods. Men wear what is appropriate to their character and according to the message they wish to convey (solicitors wear pinstripes, barristers chalk stripes). The staff of Johnson's shop told me that purchasers of men's hats are invariably polite and charming, which is why they want a hat in the first place. Jamaican men who wear such hats are of the church-going rather than the cannabis and street robbery class.
That civil men should wear hats is much less interesting than if the wearing of hats should make men civil, for this would suggest that the encouragement of hat-wearing might lead to improved levels of public civility. It ought not to be beyond the resources of social psychology to provide experimental evidence as to whether my theory is correct, but it is sometimes necessary in times of crisis to act in advance of the evidence.
Practically all government reforms are carried out with a complete absence of evidence as to whether they will work and on much less plausible hypotheses than mine: for example, that bloated bureaucracies have the public interest at heart and want to solve the problems that have called them into being and are their raison d'etre.
It should not be beyond the wit of the Government to promote the wearing of hats by fiscal and other means. After all, it is constantly pulling legislative levers and pressing fiscal buttons. It could be the beginning of a long overdue cultural counter-revolution.
The premise of the article, while I agree with it, is set in the olden days when 'civilized' men wore 'civilized' hats. There were exceptions to the rule, as the article pointed out, but as a whole it was true. For the most part civility was the rule of the day back when hats were normal. Today we're into 'shock value' and the young mainstream hat wearer follows in lockstep.
Today's hip hop culture has to some extent brought back the hat in it's own image. I fear that today the homburg and fedora is more a part of hip hop culture for a lot of folks than it is a part of a culture of tradition and respect.
I hope Mr. Dalrymple is right but fear the opposite.
Within the next couple posts I'll be going into great depth as to what to look for in a vintage hat and where to find them. This comes from Stephen's comment made on May 22. It'll be load with pictures and other good stuff, so keep an eye out for that.
Who would have thought my wee little blog would already have over 5,000 hits and multiple positive and interesting comments? Compared to some other blogs that might not seem like a lot but at this humble little blog it means a lot. Thanks for stopping by.