The Swank Life: Return of the Chapeau

Roger Stone Political Consultant
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Men’s hats went to eclipse in 1960. Until then, no gentleman would leave the house in the summer or winter without his fedora, coconut straw or homburg. Any photo of a sporting event from the 1920s to the late ’50s — from baseball to horse racing — show men in the stands with proper headgear. Lots of neckties too. Men knew how to dress in public.

John F. Kennedy probably did more to kill the chapeau by simply showing up at his 1960 Inaugural without one. Suddenly it was dashing, like the exciting new president, to be bare headed, his tousled hair blowing in the wind. Suddenly hats seemed so “Eisenhower,” so yesterday. The entire hat business in New England vanished. The men’s hatters became a thing of the past. Even today New York City has but two great hat stores.

Today the news is mixed. Cold weather probably played a bigger role in bringing back the hat, but sadly the hat common to New Jersey guidos, South Carolina rednecks, Idaho potato farmers and Los Angeles gang bangers is the ubiquitous “tractor hat,” which is derived from the cheap baseball style cap with the adjustable plastic tab. This is an abomination and the men who wear them seem to insist on keeping them on in bars, restaurants and public buildings and, I imagine, livestock shows, NASCAR races and crack dens.

I once knew a stunning woman who was trying to date online. She had an ironclad policy. If the guy sent a photo in a baseball cap or expandable tractor hat — no matter how rich, cute or endowed — it was a DELETE.

A stroll down any windy boulevard in the Big Apple in February tells you the hat is back. Of course the aforesaid ubiquitous expandable tractor hat is the first preference of illegal Mexican immigrants, sports freaks from Philly, hip-hoppers and younger gays as well as folks in from Omaha to see the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

But here and there you see a well turned fedora, a homburg, an Indian Jones-type bush hat, a Russian-style Ashkatran hat that makes you look like Nureyev and the common “scully,” which makes you look pretty much like the Hamburgurlar from McDonalds’s. Summertime also brings out straw Panamas, pork-pies and straw hombergs with grosgrain on the brim which looks great on Tom Wolfe but not on you. It’s a real return to style.

Now, if men would re-learn how to doff them when they meet a lady.