One of the perks of living in a rural area in depressed Northern Italy is the easy availability of cheap, high-quality hats.
People hereabouts still wear a hat every day – and if the dread agrochemicals-sponsored baseball cap is spreading as the standard working headgear of tractor-riders, slowly replacing the straw trilby with a sponsored band, out of the fields a lot of people still favor what goes under the name of lòbia.
The standard Borsalino hat.
What’s universally known as a fedora hat1.
And this is good, because in these autumn days I need a new fedora.
The fedora is the classic gangster-style hat, the hat that Bogart wore in many of his movies or – if you prefer – the classic Indiana Jones hat.
Curiously enough it was a female accessory – popularized by Sarah Bernhardt in 1882, and it was adopted as part of the male wardrobe only in 1924.
I started wearing a hat about ten years ago – depending on the circumstances, I go for a wool newsboy/cabby cap or a fedora. Both are pretty pulpy, retro styles of headgear.
And if it is true that as the old saying went, a man without a hat is a man of no importance, my main reasons were and still are practical.
If you travel a lot by train – as I did between 2003 and 2014 because of my work as a lecturer and researcher – wearing a hat is particularly useful during the rainy season: your head is covered and dry, and your hands are free.
No umbrella: getting up and down of trains and buses carrying a bag and a laptop backpack becomes a lot easier.
And if you prefer to wear your hair short – as I do – it’s nice to have some extra head cover in winter.
A newsboy cap can be rolled up, while a crushable fedora can be crushed, and both can then be stuffed in a coat pocket.
Borsalino used to have its main factory about fifteen miles from where I sit, producing some of the most stylish – and expensive – hats of the 20th century. Their outlet in Alessandria was an incredible place, very 1930s/deco style. Beautiful.
But it’s still far easier, and cheaper, to take a jaunt down at the local market. There is usually a hat seller, with a wide selection of good, honest hats. Nothing fancy – good wool felt, a plain band.
One needs to try on a few, and keep an eye out, but with a little luck it’s possible to find a good wide-brim fedora for 10 to 20 euros… less than one tenth of a basic Borsalino.
Choosing a good hat is no trifling matter.
One has to take into account the thickness of the felt, the rim finish, the color (I usually go for brown, dark gray or green), the quality of the sweatband, and then it’s necessary to check the fit.
Going for the cheap marketplace hat also means we won’t suffer too much in case of damage, loss or should somebody steal our hat.
Indeed, my first 10 bucks, straight-out-of-the-farmers-market brown fedora was so good-looking that somebody opened my car and stole it, three years ago, while I was at the movies. Crazy, what?
So, in the next week or so, I will be hat-hunting.
Winter is coming.
- actually, the lòbia should be a homburg hat, but the name is used normally for the fedora too. ↩