What man or woman does not look more distinguished, and indeed intriguing in a well-chosen hat? However, hat-wearing is not at all as common as it was, and since the mid-twentieth century, rarely are they worn, unless as part of a uniform or protection against the elements.
As a consequence, contemporary dressers, although attracted to the idea of hat-wearing, find the concept of when to wear this accessory a little confusing. The challenge for many is striking a balance between our modern, continuous desire for individualism, and relevancy or, more simply put: ‘fitting in’, which raises the question:
A hat looks best with a suit/overcoat and is justified when worn with an awareness and appreciation of the occasion. The suit lends itself naturally to the sense of drama associated with hat-wearing, the style of which must complement the ensemble and tone of the event.
Appearance and Reputation
There is an amusing story that relates to the famous German composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who presumably, in the pursuit of a little fresh air and relaxation, decided to take a walk, dressed in a well-worn frock coat and no hat, which, as it turns out, was evidently considered a cardinal crime for a man of good rank and reputation in European society in the 1820s.
Seemingly Mr. Beethoven walked a lot further than had intended and became a little disorientated, and perhaps in the hopes of gaining some enlightenment, as to his location, was reported to have been seen looking through the windows of local houses.
Such activity and dress, or rather lack of appropriate dress, arose suspicions, and the great composer, although well known at the time, was taken for a ‘hatless’ vagabond and arrested, despite protestations from the great man himself. His eventual release and restoration of reputation, no doubt a relief, was the chatter of nineteenth-century society.
Although an amusing anecdote, it nevertheless clearly illustrates that the hat has had an important function in helping to promote and distinguish the individual’s role in public.
Why Did the Hat Become Less Popular?
Despite the established acceptance of identity-bound hat styles, the advent of the motor car, and its widespread ownership, witnessed a decline in hat-wearing; no longer was it necessary to protect one’s self completely from the elements.
Added to this was the new post-war philosophy and spirit, which inspired a new world order, as embodied by the young President JFK, who, in his inaugural speech in January 1961, despite the cold, opted to present himself bareheaded, whilst flanked by a sea of old-establishment top hats, trilbies, fedoras, and military caps.
This seemingly casual President was a clever public relations exercise, which made JFK stand out as a reflection of new ideas, a representation of the ‘everyman’ or common man. The hatless President looked young and inspiring and, as a consequence, perhaps more approachable and in tune with a new era.
The Hat and Image
An instant way to represent social identity to the general public is through uniform as embodied in the military and the hat plays a significant role in this. The psychological impact of a uniform on the public varies from feelings of security to those of wariness, depending on the individual and the organization in question. Associations made with the hat extend to those of strength, authority, and power.
The Revival of the Hat!
Our awareness of environmental hazards such as UVA and UVB has meant that the hat has become more relevant than ever. It is no longer just a matter of style and individualism but also a vital aid in protecting the skin against these harmful elements.
Aside from the advantage that a hat serves in protecting the wearer from environmental elements such as intense sun, cold, or rain, is the fact that the right headgear adds height and distinction to the wearer.
The hat is a stylish answer to the more suspect and less formal protection of the hoodie. However, a structured hat, in preference to a soft knitted hat, or cap, looks best with a suit. In fact, a denim trilby brings a fresh modern edge, and a semi-formal style to a suit, but the fedora in practically any material is a killer look, especially as a suit accessory.
Aside from the two most popular styles of headgear: the baseball cap and the flat cap, the fedora, the Humphrey Bogart classic, is popular for both men and women and lends itself to a formal or, in contrast, a more casual look, depending on how it is worn.
21st Century Boy!
Those who grew up watching Indiana Jones in the 1980s can attest to the fact that the image of the swashbuckling hero, cheeky grin, and noble fedora, worn at a jaunty angle, made a lasting impression, and was a look worthy of emulation. Classic styles of men’s hats, such as the fedora or trilby, have remained popular, partly because of popular culture, and glamorous associations made with these styles.
Fortunately, contemporary fashion, sensitive to the need for functionality as well as pure style, accommodates the enthusiastic hat wearer. Not since the sad decline in hat-wearing, in the mid-twentieth century, has there been such a wide choice in styles and colors.
The fact is that wearing a hat with a suit is perfectly acceptable and, in reality, rather a debonair look. However, hat-wearing takes a form of confidence that not everyone has and is a decision that the wearer must make for themselves. Let’s face it, a person wearing a hat will stand out from the crowd simply because wearing a hat with a suit is not as common as it was 65 years ago.
If you are a shy person or prefer to melt into the background and recoil from the very idea or suggestion that you should be the focus of public gaze or attention, then perhaps a more reserved look, minus the headgear, may well be the appropriate choice. It is fundamentally down to the type of personality an individual has.
Suitable Suit Styles
This is an iconic hat style which suits men, or women; it has a wide brim, which slopes downwards in front. It has a fixed crown with a crease down the middle, and pinched sides and is traditionally produced in wool felt.
This style is very similar to the fedora, except for the fact that the brim is narrower, which is usually snapped downward in the front and upwards in the back. It has the same patterns of creasing and pinching as the fedora.
The trilby is a style of hat that was often sold as part of a suit deal. The trilby looks really amazing when produced in modern fabrics such as denim, suede, or paper straw.
This is an exceptionally elegant hat that complements a suit. The homburg is similar to the fedora but a great deal more formal and dressier. It is also produced in felt wool but, unlike the fedora and trilby, is usually self-bound in the felt or a contrasting grosgrain silk ribbon, which complements the band around the crown. The brim is ever so slightly curled up, and the crown is stiff with only one central dent.
The pork pie
This is a shorter style with a flattened top, and narrow brim. It does not have a crease down the center, but it has a dropped central crown, which means it sometimes looks like a version of the boater hat, albeit wool and with a narrower brim. These are a very popular, contemporary style and can look very youthful with a suit, especially a three-piece suit.
The bowler or derby
This is a hard, dome-shaped hat, which is considered an iconic London business accessory, but it is rarely seen today unless the wearer is making a specific statement. The bowler is a robust style and is traditionally worn with a suit. In order to carry off this hat style and avoid looking old-fashioned, the bowler wearer needs to dress down; wearing denim and docker boots with the bowler is an edgy look.
This is a very functional, versatile look that lends itself easily to casual or semi-formal occasions. Traditionally produced in a paper straw material, this style looks exceptionally debonair with a suit. It is a classic design that suits men or women and never goes out of style.
The straw boater
This particular hat, which is usually worn in summer, can look refreshingly contemporary when worn with a light-colored suit, with or without a tie. The appropriate occasion and location, such as outdoors, are ideal for the boater.
The top hat is one of the most formal hat styles it is available and should only be worn with a very formal dress suit with tails. It is unlikely that the average person will need to own one and, if needed will probably be hired for an occasion such as a wedding. Nevertheless, the top hat certainly adds plenty of drama, panache, and elegance.
A suit and a hat are a natural fit, and there is a wide choice of styles from which to choose. The individual, the occasion, and the suit will dictate the style of hat to select. It is increasingly evident that the discerning, contemporary dresser is returning to the most elegant accessory a man can wear.
Hats are so functional. They protect from the rain, keep the sun out of the eyes, and are so stylish that those inevitable glances will be inspired by admiration and envy.
It remains to the wearer whether or not they can envision themselves having the confidence to wear a hat with a suit. It takes courage to be different, to be individual, and to be true to one’s self, but if, as they say, clothes make the man, then the right hat will undoubtedly elevate him!
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