We are still firmly in the icy grip of General Winter, who gave Napoleon such a beating in 1812. This is London, of course, so gone are the days of the Victorian picture postcard scene with thick, gleaming white snow. The rain is coming down and the mercury hasn’t risen yet. And, as we are all told as children, you lose most of your body heat through your head.
In these treacherous times, it’s the wise man or woman who wears hat. But you don’t need to do it from sheer utility: we can all do better than a beanie or a bobble hat to keep out the winter chill. Instead, take this opportunity to cross a divide, from occasionally donning a titfer to becoming a Hat Wearer.
I’d always envied the old-time suavity and style of hats: trilbies, fedoras, bowlers and more. As I grew up, the world around me confirmed what I already knew, that this was an archaic tradition which had been fatally wounded, so urban legend had it, by Jack Kennedy’s disdain for head coverings, the better to display his thick, lustrous hair. But in my early 30s, I came to the realisation that I had agency, I had a choice: if I wanted to wear a hat, dammit, I would.
So it was that I waded across a personal Rubicon and became a Hat Wearer. And how glad I am that I did. For millinery is a treasure house, with stylish and practical options for all occasions.
My day-to-day wear is a brown trilby. It goes with everything, from a suit to casual tweeds and flannels, and while it keeps off light rain and insulates you from the worst of the cold, it also has a distinctive élan. My first was an immaculate example from the legendary Bates’s of Jermyn Street, who provide everything a man in search of headgear could want. After a few spills and thrills, I now wear a very similar item from Hawes and Curtis.
It is distinctive, but the feedback is usually positive. A senior parliamentarian did, I confess, once advise me, not entirely kindly, that I looked like I had a good tip for the 3.10 at Kempton, but mostly it is regarded as a quirky but elegant affectation, and it certainly gets you known.
For more formal occasions, I went to the temple of hats, Lock and Co. on St James’s Street. I confess I had the bravado of the quite-drunk, but I took the plunge and bought a simply beautiful black Homburg, popularised by Edward VII and shown off to great effect by Anthony Eden, the most dandyish of 20th century prime ministers. (He became synonymous with it and it is still often known as an “Anthony Eden hat”.)
It is less rakish than the trilby, but still chic, and will take you from a workday suit to black tie with ease. For white tie, of course, a silk top hat is a must, but these gorgeous creatures remain rare or expensive or both: my eyes are still open. I do have a grey topper for morning dress, a 1950s item picked up on eBay for a modest sum, and it attracts admiring glances and remarks at any wedding.
Wearing a hat is more than a sartorial decision. It grants you access to a secret brotherhood: other Hat Wearers will give you a nod as you pass in the street, and it will not be long until, like any good Guards officer, you feel incomplete venturing out uncovered. I have never looked back, and the minor inconvenience of having to remember where you’ve put it when you are out and about is trifling compared to the warm satisfaction its presence gives you.
Seek out a milliner’s, then, or browse online, and see what the world of hats has to offer you. Be not of faint heart, but say “I am a Hat Wearer, and I love it”, and you will find many more ways to spend your money and enhance your wardrobe. Hats off to that.