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History of Straw hats & Felt hats - Gangster fedoras

History of Straw hats and Felt hats - Gangster fedorasA 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 fashion trend.

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.


History of Straw hats and Felt hats furnishes enlightening detail, beginning with interesting accounts of dress hats in the early years, through the roaring 20's gangster fedoras, includes features on golf and movie celebrities' hats, and highlights some original and contemporary hatmakers.