Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Hats of Summer

Chapter 20
It's summer, and you need a hat. Yes, you do. The blazing rays of our celestial nuclear furnace are beating down upon you, and you need to shield yourself. "I don't like hats," you might object. "They're hot, they make my head sweat, I'm not outside that much, I'm better in summer without one, thank you very much," etc. Balderdashery -- stop whining and get thee to a haberdashery!

You might be thinking of a baseball cap. Not the best choice for summer headgear: it sits tight to your scalp, absorbs heat and transfers it to your head; and the bill, while keeping some sun out of your eyes, will do nothing for your ears and back of your neck, which will be sizzling like crispy strips o' bacon in short order.

For torrid summer heat, nothing beats a real hat. You don't need to lay down loads of oof for a suitable one either; your local Chinese-Clothing-Import-Big-Box-Mart will have a cheap selection, at least one of which should be in a suitable summer style. You get what you pay for, of course, so you'd best treat it like a seasonal disposable; unless you shell out hundreds for the high-end stuff, which you can wear for decades.

Regular hats, whether of felt, fur, tweed, or cloth, are usually matched to your jacket to a greater or lesser degree: summer hats are by nature a more casual breed, that can be worn more as an afterthought accessory which matches everything. Whilst a felt fedora or tweed trilby looks a bit odd with shirtsleeves, a summer hat doesn't look out of place with a polo shirt and Bermuda shorts, making it perfect for, well, summer.

So what makes a good summer hat? A light color is essential, to reflect radiant energy and keep your noggin from broiling. A brim, all the way around, to keep the UV rays off your ears and neck. A high crown that sits a bit off the top of your head, to prevent conduction heating. And a slightly loose fit, to prevent undue sweating from contact with a too-tight sweatband.

The best material is, and always has been, straw; being lightweight, light in color, and of a loose enough weave to permit a little airflow through the crown. Cotton is a good compromise material, as is thin felt; the tradeoff is durability and waterproofity for lightness and airflow.

Most people think straw hats are "Panama hats." While all Panamas are straw, not all straw hats are Panama hats! A real Panama hat must be hand-woven in Ecuador from Jipijapa palm straw. They're made in a variety of styles, but the most iconic is the Optimo Panama.

You can tell an Optimo by its open crown
with characteristic ridge down the center.
And as with everything, the style of your hat is of no small importance. The best styles of summer hat are those which mimic real hats: most notably the fedora and homburg.
 
"Toquilla" by Monterrey, a true Panama in
the classic fedora shape.
"Eldorado" by Dobbs, with the center crease and
turned-up brim of the more formal Homburg.
Trilbys and stingy-brim styles are more for fashion than function: their brims are too narrow to be of any practical use, and make poor summer hats.

The Stetson "Mercer" trilby, for example,  
is too thin of brim to provide any real shade.
At the other extreme, unless you are a gaucho, stay away from any version of sombrero.

The first extreme: a resounding No.

The other extreme, "Charlie" porkpie by Bailey:
fashionable enough, but you won't look like much
of a hepcat with burned ears.
Those in the American West, where there is a legitimate precedent for the wearing of cowboy hats, can wear them in a summer style. Those that merely want to emulate the working Western hat, (and there are many,) can do so with a summer fedora that has a less dramatic Western-style brim and crown than the real article.
The Colorado Straw is a good cowboy-style
treatment without going over the top.
Cloth or canvas bucket hats, or fishing hats and their ilk, are too casual for public use. Use them for fishing, gardening, or at the poolside, but don't wear them "out." All summer hats are not created equal: although they are all casual, there are those you can wear out to dinner, and those you can't.

Make no mistake, the Canadian "Airflo" by Tilley is one
phenomenal fishing hat. Just don't wear it in town.
Merely wearing a hat to keep the sun off isn't enough, however. Admission into the World of the Hatted comes with some ground rules. The cap-wearing masses largely ignore these rules, and as a result the rules are quickly becoming forgotten. Learn them, and you can add that extra, subtle dash of panache to your grown-up sartorial arsenal. The rules seem complicated to the uninitiated, but next week I'll break all the hat-rules down to their essentials...and it's not as complicated as you think!

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