Postmodernism

I need a summer hat that isn’t a baseball cap. What should I wear?


Once upon a time, in the 19th and early 20th century, a hat was a staple of an adult’s wardrobe – the finishing touch when going out, serving as both protection and social uniform.

Then, around the 1920s, the popularity of hats began a slow decline, culminating, for men, in 1961, when John F. Kennedy abandoned his top hat to take the presidential oath and his bare head became emblematic of ‘a new era. Although the baseball cap and cowboy hat were retained as personal identifiers, most formal headgear was relegated to costume status (and a key player in British pageantry).

But climate change and temperature spikes have sparked something of a global hat renaissance. They are, once again, essential elements of every wardrobe: an accessory that everyone needs. And while the baseball cap seems to be the default for most, whether worn ironically or not, there are alternatives.

Indeed, take a walk these days and you’re likely to see it all: crushed-straw gardening hats (a badge of the weekend eco-warrior), safari styles (for the adventurer) and, as you say so, the panama hat (for the urban dandy). This means hats have again become a semiological minefield.

There is, however, a happy medium.

“My advice,” said Stephen Jones, Britain’s hat maestro, “would be to try a bucket hat. These have the informality of a baseball cap but the structure of a fedora. In fact, if you raise the back edge, they can even have the illusion of a modern trilby.

And while, as Mr. Jones points out, buckets often have a postmodern air of gift-shop kitsch, they can be found in almost any shade, material or price. That means you might even be accumulating a hat wardrobe. (We might be heading that way anyway, so might as well be prepared.)

“Linen to match the texture and vibe of jeans,” Jones said. “High-tech nylon to go with active sportswear. Even yarns to coordinate with a suit. Cool versions in raffia. And if you are concerned about the size of the brim, you can go to a milliner and get a custom style.

To begin with, Mr Jones said: “My view is that the hat should match your coloring or your hair, not necessarily your clothes.”

He calls it “the male-hat equivalent of a woman’s ‘nude’ shoe”: a go-anywhere, always-appropriate item that doesn’t feel too harsh, but gets the job done. And to that, all anyone can really say is: hats off!

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion question, which you can send her anytime via E-mail Where Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.