Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with the autoimmune condition lupus, which includes an extraordinary sensitivity to sunlight. A baseball cap won’t suffice and looks silly with my urban professional wardrobe. Fedoras, trilbys and Panamas seem to proclaim the wearer as either an extravagant nonconformist or an anti-feminist reactionary. Is there a middle ground? — Jeffrey, London
Once upon a time, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a hat was a basic part of an adult wardrobe — the finishing touch as one went out the door, serving as both protection and social uniform.
Then, around the 1920s, hats’ popularity began a slow decline, which culminated, for men, in 1961, when John F. Kennedy abandoned his top hat to take the presidential oath of office and his bare head became emblematic of a new era. Though the baseball cap and the cowboy hat hung on as personal identifiers, most formal headgear was consigned to the status of costume (and a key player in British pageantry).
But climate change and spiking temperatures have sparked something of a global hat renaissance. They are, once again, crucial parts of every wardrobe: an accessory everybody needs. And although the baseball cap seems like the default solution for most, whether worn with irony or without, there are alternatives.
Indeed, walk around these days and you are likely to see everything: crushed straw gardening hats (a badge of the weekend ecowarrior), safari styles (for the adventurer) and, as you say, the Panama hat (for the urban dandy). That means hats have once again become a semiological minefield.
There is, however, a middle ground.
“My advice,” said Stephen Jones, the British 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 flip the back brim up, they can even have the illusion of a modern trilby.”
And though, as Mr. Jones points out, buckets often come with a postmodern air of souvenir-shop kitsch, they can be found in almost every shade, material and price point. That means you could even accumulate a hat wardrobe. (We may be going in this direction anyway, so you might as well be prepared.)
“Linen to match the texture and mood of jeans,” Mr. Jones said. “High-tech nylon to go with active sportswear. Even wools to coordinate with a suit.” Cool raffia versions. And if you are concerned about the size of the brim, you can go to a milliner and get a style custom-made.
To start, Mr. Jones said, “My take is that the hat should match your coloring or your hair, not necessarily your clothing.”
He calls it “the masculine-hat equivalent of a woman’s ‘nude’ shoe”: a go-anywhere, always-appropriate item that does not look as if it is trying too hard, but gets the job done. And to that, all anyone can really say is: Hats off!