Brimmed hats are back in style for men

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 3:13am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 6:40am

When it comes to the influence of pop culture, few can top singer, songwriter, producer and fashion designer Pharrell Williams, but even his most ardent fans were left a little nonplussed when he sported an oversized vintage Vivienne Westwood "Mountain" hat at the Grammy Awards in January.

The hat, brown felt and standing eight inches (20cm) from crown to peak, dominated not only Williams' head but the post-show headlines, tweets and Facebook chatter - it even spawned its own Twitter account. And it isn't just Williams. Jared Leto and Johnny Depp are rarely seen without hats these days.

Despite all the amused social media interest, Depp, Leto and Williams' fondness for handmade, traditionally constructed hats is part of a wider trend in menswear - the long-awaited return of brimmed hats.

"Pharrell, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, God love them all, they've been absolutely and hugely effective in making proper hats, real hats cool again," says Allison Bard, general manager of Kaminski XY, an Australian hatmaker.

Bard says the recent upswing in interest has allowed Kaminski XY to move beyond its core markets of Australia, Japan and the US to cities such as Hong Kong.

Once a staple of every man's wardrobe, rich and poor, the brimmed hat began to disappear in the 1960s as society and fashion rebelled against constricting formality and uniformity. In the following years, in the US especially, the baseball cap became more favoured for men.

"It's a bit before my time, but I guess hats went away for practical as well as fashion reasons," says Martin Smith, export manager for traditional British hatter, Lock & Co, which has been making hats since 1676.

Speaking at the recent Pitti Uomo men's fashion trade show, Smith says the reception Lock & Co received reflected the global trend for hats. "It's getting much busier now. I've been doing this 14 years and this is the busiest I've ever seen it. Culturally, of course, it helps to have musicians and actors wearing these hats, but there are also guys who just want to dress the right way," he says.

The "right way" that Smith alludes to is handmade hats that take up to a week to put together and have to be fitted.

Lock & Co's panama hats have become popular recently.

"Our customers are very knowledgeable, especially the Japanese who are Anglophiles," says Smith. "They want to know everything about a hat: how it's made, how we sourced the cloth, where it was woven."

Bard considers celebrity endorsements to be the culmination of other fashion trends in menswear over the past 10 years, particularly those that have been influenced by television.

"Shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire have definitely filtered through and have shown how you can wear a hat and feel comfortable. Men, I feel, need those trendsetters to make them think it's OK," says Bard.

Both she and Smith stress that it's important to make the distinction between more outlandish headwear worn by Williams, Depp and Kanye West, and the more classical styles favoured by the men at Pitti Uomo.

"Pharrell's hat couldn't be more different than the classical panama, fedora, trilby and all those other styles. These are the hats that guys are increasingly looking to as they never go out of fashion," Bard says, pointing out that high street brands have started making these styles.

In Hong Kong, the men's hat trend is still in its early stages in comparison to other markets in Asia such as Japan, but it is growing every season with new retailers stocking more wide-brimmed varieties.

Lock & Co, whose hats can cost more than HK$4,000, has found a natural and appreciative niche audience at The Armoury in Central, but 60 to 70 per cent of their hats each year go to Japan.

The more affordable Kaminski XY is a relative newcomer to the city.

Bard believes that Hong Kong men may never take to hats with the same level of passion as the Japanese.

"We've seen good growth for South Korea and a little in Hong Kong. The Japanese are just that much braver when it comes to headwear. When it comes to fashion in general," says Bard.



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