A head for style

The famous fedora and bullwhip return to movie screens next month.
Mark Noyes of Albany looks sharp in his trademark fedora.
Mark Noyes of Albany looks sharp in his trademark fedora.

The famous fedora and bullwhip return to movie screens next month.

Harrison Ford will be wearing them as rough-and-tumble archaeologist Indiana Jones. The fictional explorer and veteran of three previous big-budget films is back in cinema action for the first time since 1989 in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

Adventure fans will get the usual close calls and witty dialogue in a story big on mayhem and mysticism. Fashion, too: Jones just about always wears that brown hat.

Fedora experts say the return of the character, who hasn’t been at the movies since “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” could boost sales of men’s headgear.

“First, history always repeats itself,” said Vince Rua, owner of Christopher’s mens’ clothing store in Colonie Center. “Second, when the fashion role models, which are basically actors, start wearing different items such as hats, younger people take notice and start to emulate those idols.”

Guys who owned suits and trench coats during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s also used their heads as hat racks. Fedoras were tops with actors such as Humphrey Bogart, who wore them in character for adventure and crime movies such as “Casablanca” and “The Big Sleep.” A fedora helped give Frank Sinatra his “ring-a-ding-ding” cool during the 1950s.

Out of fashion for a time

It all changed during the 1960s. John F. Kennedy gets some of the blame, but it’s a bad rap.

Established urban legends say Kennedy did not wear a hat during his presidential inauguration in January 1961, but those stories are wrong. Kennedy did wear a hat, a silk top hat, during formal, gaudy proceedings that began his term in office. He took off the hat during his speech, but still arrived and departed with his head covered.

Hat manufacturers say their business dropped a bit anyway during the early 1960s because people had started to spend less time outdoors with the continuing popularity of the automobile. Hats were no longer important accessories. And as the ’60s progressed, younger people didn’t want to cover up longer hair styles pioneered by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and other rock ’n’ roll bands. Mod looks had no places for fedoras or homburgs, the latter a stiff felt hat similar to the fed.

Ford’s Indiana Jones has worn his often dusty, often beat-up hat in movies set during the hat-friendly 1930s, 1940s and, now, 1957. Rua believes younger actors in headgear might lead a resurgence for hats in both formal and informal settings in 2008.

Sinatra’s crown

“If we think about the actors of today, Brad Pitt comes to mind, Johnny Depp comes to mind and each of them has worn hats both in their movies in character and just casually,” he said.

That’s how Sinatra started. The singer made fedoras part of his personality.

“The hat was his crown, cocked askew, as defiant as he was,” wrote Bill Zehme in his 1997 book “The Way You Wear Your Hat — Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin’.”

Zehme continued: “To be like him required a hat — and correspondingly, hat sales jumped across America and beyond.”

Lucasfilm Ltd., which has produced the May 22 “Crystal Skull” picture, is ready to accommodate Jones wanna-bes with brown wool-felt replicas for $41.99. They’re waiting for wearers at the Web site “shop.indiana.jones.com.”

But the Ford fedora may not catch on, even with the Jones character primed for a summer-long stay in the United States.

“The hats getting the most attention are what’s known as ‘stingy brim’ hats, with a smaller, or stingier, brim,” Rua said.

“On an Indian Jones hat, you might have a 21⁄2- or 3-inch brim in the front,” Rua added. “On a stingy brim, you’ll have an inch and a half, maybe an inch and three quarters, so it’s a smaller-brimmed hat either worn rolled up in the front or turned down as a fedora. Those are the hats I’m bringing in for spring, those are the hats that have gotten the most attention.”

Roger Noyes, 30, of Albany, wears a charcoal-colored, fedora-style hat for both cool look and warm feeling.

“The best thing about these hats, the real gentleman’s hat, you can pretty much wear this hat and not run the risk of having your hair get messed up on the way to work,” said Noyes, communications director for the Home Care Association of New York. “With a standard tuque (a knitted hat), you’re in trouble there because the tightness of the hat tends to bunch up on a wet head of hair, and you have a messy crop when it’s time to get into work. Hat hair, you want to avoid that.”

Attention getter

The attention factor is another plus. People notice a sharp-dressed man in a hat.

“The one time that I always wear my hat is when I am walking my dog in the morning,” Noyes said. “She’s a Dalmatian. I would equate it to Curious George and the guy with the yellow hat — I kind of like the idea of being known in the neighborhood as the guy with the dress hat walking the Dalmatian. The dog and the hat go hand in hand; both draw people’s attention because they are both considered to be unusual.”

Laura Battaglia, who designs and sells hats in Brooklyn, says vintage fashions are popular — especially with the artistic community. A hat offers a classic, contemporary look.

“I think for men, they have limited options as far as wardrobe goes, and I think they’re trying to get on the bandwagon of fashion,” Battaglia said. “And it just makes a statement. Maybe people feel more comfortable within themselves to kind of branch out and wear a hat — it sets them apart.”

For wider head coverage and more hats in the home, she added, “Maybe we need a new president who wears them.”

New audience

Vince Rua isn’t sure even that would help. Old habits are hard to break, and men who were young during the rocking 1960s and disco-dancing 1970s may not want to try something new during middle age.

“I just don’t think you’re going to see men 40 and up changing their habits and going to a hat,” Rua said. “I think you will see some of the guys who are into fashion will take note of the Indiana Jones movies and if their retailer is featuring those sorts of hats, they might give it a shot. But I really think you’ll see more of it in the younger generation. I think it has to be something a little different than what their fathers wore.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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