History of Straw hats & Felt
hats - Gangster fedoras
discussion of men's fashion during the 1930s would be incomplete
without recognizing the gangster influence. Gangsters, while despised
as thieves, paradoxically projected an image of businessmen
because of the suits they wore. However, they didn't choose typical
business colors and styles, but took every detail to the extreme. Their suits
featured wider stripes, bolder glen plaids, more colorful ties, pronounced
shoulders, narrower waists, and wider trouser bottoms. They topped
their extreme look with fedora hats or gangster fedoras, in a wide
variety of colors: almond green, dove, lilac, petrol blue, brown and dark gray. High fashion
New York designers were mortified by demands to imitate the gangster style, but obliged
by creating the Broadway suit, topped with a felt fedora.
Until the 1960s, the article of clothing that performed the most
important role in indicating social distinctions among men was the
hat. Men's hats were a relic by the late 20th century. Today, Gangster
hats are back. Fedoras, porkpies, homburgs and derbies; men's felt
hats in general are being revived in the fashion spreads
of GQ magazine and chic designers.
Why the resurgence now? Part of the credit may go to Indiana Jones,
the fedora-wearing hero of the 1981 hit movie "Raiders of the
Lost Ark." But, like many other fashion trends of more recent
vintage, the resurgence has roots in hip-hop. Rap pioneers
made homburgs, worn with sneakers and gold medallions, newly suave.
The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, P. Diddy, Snoop Dogg and others underscored the Gangster fedora look.
Hip-hop artists turned old-school fedoras into fresh urban gear. Rappers who followed continued
the trend. A homburg looked anything but stodgy when worn by the
Notorious B.I.G. or P. Diddy. The derby lost its obsessive British
flavor on the head of Tupac Shakur. Other hip-hoppers, perhaps reaching
back to the gangster look of the 1930s and '40s, have worn various
styles of snapped-brim gangster fedoras.
You never see Kid Rock without a gangster lid, otherwise known as
the homburg. Backstreet Boys singer Kevin Carter sported a felt fedora
at BMG Music's post-Grammy soiree, Deion Sanders has a signature
line of Dobbs hats; and fashion leaders ranging from Bruce Willis
to Carlos Santana are turning old school toppers into a hot, new
Detroit-born jazz star James Carter
wears felt hats and sported a porkpie on the cover of his recent
CD. Another famous hat guy, Deion Sanders, has his own signature collection by
Dobbs. Frank Sinatra's death in 1998 raised interest in the short-brimmed
fedoras worn by the Voice.
Now felt hats are everywhere. Wynton Marsalis
sports a porkpie in a JBL speaker ad. In GQ, a dude in
a porkpie puts the move on a blonde. A lot
of celebrities are wearing gangster fedoras now. Even Jay
Lo wears a fedora on one of her videos. Anything the stars wear,
that's what people want.
Generations X, Y and Z are taking time out from their computer
terminals to buy hats. It's not unusual to see kids
wearing fedoras or porkpies to the movies or the mall. Everybody
wants to emulate the styles on the music videos and look like they
live on MTV. The felt fedora is an accessory that enhances your
whole outfit and accentuates what you are wearing.
Because it's soft, the fedora is an easy hat to personalize by breaking
down the brim in the front, back and sides, or pinching the crown
in varying degrees. You can flip it all kinds of ways, put it
on and shape it the way you want it. It's like wearing a new hat
everyday. Beyond the fedora, the derby and homburg, both with curled
brims, are slightly more formal hats that will provide variety for
dress or business wear. The homburg, with its well-defined rolling brim,
is the most popular and versatile of the two. The standard color
is black, but today the homburg is worn in many bold hues like red,
royal blue, burgundy and winter white.
It may take courage or an eccentric spirit
to wear a dress hat in many parts of the country, but not in Detroit,
the home of the blues. It's an excellent place for hat lovers, with dozens of places to buy them
and enough men wearing felt hats to raise the comfort level. Detroiters
like to dress, Detroit has always been a good hat town and a fashion leader.
If you own just one hat, the best, most versatile and most popular
choice is the fedora, probably in a basic color like black, olive
or gray. Real men's hats have survived for centuries as highly visible
symbols of the well dressed man. Felt fedoras may have been ignored
for a while as old-fashioned and out-of-it, but in their current
revival they are the essence of hip.