Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Musicians, rules, weather and God or four reasons to wear a hat in 2009

So why wear a hat in 2009? Good question.

First, let's address the easy answer to that question. It should be no surprise that hats attract the creative, "downtown" element. Having said that, I find it rather ironic that the brimmed hat - the sartorial marker of conformity in the 19th and early 20th century bar none - has now morphed into its perfect opposite, an individual choice of artists, musicians and entertainers. The recent surge of fedora and hatwearing is arguably due to the raffish element that hats give off today. A whiff of insouciance, of the dégagé and louche. This is true for both sexes. It's a unisex token of cool. For certain individuals, wearing a brimmed hat sends a signal of being unplugged as it were from the grid of conformity around them.

In addition to the fashion-oriented creatives, we cannot ignore the other distinct camp of hatwearers today: the retro-conformists. This group is all about the Restoration of rules established and practiced to perfection sometime in the 1930s and 1940s (i.e. see The Fedora Lounge). Like the creatives, the retro-conformists borrow clothing and accessories from a previous era. But unlike the creatives, the borrowing is done in conscious homage to a lost world of superior manners and etiquette, of clearly defined masculine and feminine codes.

Going back to the hats themselves, the essential difference between the retros and the creatives is the brim and crown. This recent Wall Street Journal article on the current hat craze is right about the utter domination of the stingy brim among the creative set. But the article falls prey to the myth that hats underwent a complete and total mass extinction in the 1960s only to be resurrected by fashion designers circa 2005.

Take a look at this 1985 video of a live, acoustic performance by Mike Oldfield performing his single "Moonlight Shadow". The vocals by Maggie Reilly are simply phenomenal, ethereal by the way. But let's go back to Oldfield's hat. On the one hand, it has a smallish, tapered crown quite unlike the tall, full crown favored by the retro-conformists. On the other hand, the brim is quite generous, longer than the short, stingy brim currently in vogue among the creative set. The point is that Oldfield wears a hat to fit his situation, whether performing in Manhattan circa 2009 or in Europe some 25 years ago. This is the logic of cool, not Restoration.

In addition to the two camps above, there's another category of hat wearers - the utilitarians. In a recent New York Times article, hatter Bruno Lacorazza says, “People always use hats. It’s a necessity, like food.” It's certainly a necessity when the sun is beating down or during inclement weather.

As a leading hat purveyor to the hasidim, Lacorazza also points to a fourth category - the institutional and/or religious impetus to wear hats. The hasidic community are among the most devoted hatwearers today for very compelling reasons of their own.

So there you have it - what's your reason to don a hat?

Additional links
- BBC article on hatwearing in 2009

Shipton & Heneage Pennine boots: These boots are made for sloshing...

As a rule, I buy and wear the merchandise and clothing I write about on my blog (or at least visit the store to view the product). I have not had the opportunity to do that with Shipton & Heneage. But the folks there recently sent me photos of their latest wares and I took a liking to these walking boots - the Pennine model in a dark oak pebble grain ($375).

S&H Pennine boot

Made to Northampton standards and fitted with a rugged Commando sole, these look the ideal boots for cold sloshy weather. They appear to finish higher than a low ankle boot like a chukka or Chelsea and hence provide more coverage and protection.

If the rainy summer weather on the East Coast is a harbinger of the fall and winter weather to come, this might be the right time to start thinking about boots!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

"Mad" about Madrid: 1960s style

One more thing about Madrid. A few months ago I came across The Pleasure Seekers, a 1964 "chick flick" about three American gals in Madrid. A kind of Mad Men from the female point of view but more comically inclined, if you see the analogy. The commonality is that both Pleasure Seekers and Mad Men are set in the 1960s and offer an interesting visual record of mid-century style, dress, furnishings and the lived environment.

The film features the 60s starlet Ann-Margret, Carol Lynley, Pamela Tiffin and Brian Keith as the grizzled expat newspaper editor. Equipped with a brassy, swinging big-band soundtrack and tracking shots of Madrid (and Toledo) from 40+ years ago, The Pleasure Seekers is a lightweight, even silly film with scenes of forced seriousness. But I found it visually diverting with a memorable line or two of dialogue and sly double entendres.

Check out the mod suits with skinny lapels and pocket flaps worn by Keith and a striking lime and pink check suit worn by Tiffin (playing Susie) in the opening scene. In the Prado scene you'll see her again with a carnation-red gingham slip dress while her love interest Emilio sports a 60s monochrome look wearing a Brioni-esque grey suit with a black tie on a blue shirt. In the penultimate scene with Brian Keith, Emilio also wears a distinctive moss green/grey/blue gunclub tweed jacket with a black tie and tan trousers.