Can I dispel a myth about men’s fashion? Let me start by saying that I’ve worn hats all my life. My mom made me wear a hat when I walked through chilly downtown Philadelphia streets during the school year. That hat had earflaps—very inelegant, but the idea was warmth, not style.
By the time I got to high school, the trend was toward short-brimmed fedoras and jeff caps, which were especially prominent in the stands during our football games.
I’m long out of high school, but I’ve never really stopped wearing a hat. I believe the longstanding maxim, “You’re not fully dressed until you put your hat on.” Just ask Oscar at South Street Hats—Philly’s foremost (and maybe only) true hat store.
My intention is not to give Oscar a shameless plug here, but if you really want to shop for a man’s hat, 8th and South streets is the only place in Philadelphia where I can find a real selection.
Time was, you could find men’s hats in all the good department stores—Gimbels, Lit Brothers, Strawbridge’s, Wanamaker’s…now you can’t even find a real department store.
Which brings me to my myth-dispelling segment: In my opinion, our 35th president, John Kennedy, has fallaciously been given credit for causing men to abandon their hats.
Handsome though he may have been, Kennedy had a large, somewhat square-ish head, and men with his shape head just don’t look good in hats. So Kennedy, vain man that he was, opted for bareheadedness. (If I wasn’t a pin-head myself, I’d go hatless also.)
Subsequently, men all over the world—so the mythology goes—started to remove their headdress in following Kennedy’s lead.
But it wasn’t presidential panache that caused men to shake their chapeaus. Men were still wearing hats several years after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Look at some of the movies from the late 60s, and, although they were getting increasingly scarce, the fedora is still seen bouncing along city streets atop the heads of business men.
However, as the 1970s told hold, something influenced men to seriously uncover en masse, but it wasn’t the late president. It wasn’t any man. It was an automobile—or more accurately, automobiles in general; and for two reasons.
First, cars were more prevalent by the 70s than they ever were in the 40s and 50s. Just about every family was getting a car; some families had two by then.
So whereas most men formerly rode the bus or trolley car, now many of those riders had their own little puddle-jumpers to get them to and from work.
Secondly, and more significantly, cars were getting increasingly lower. Gone were those high-roofed sedans that had plenty of head room, ergo hat-room. Modern rooflines were just not allowing for comfortable headpieces. So hats had to go.
Ultimately, GMC had more influence than JFK when it came to removing the bonnets from men’s beans.
I wonder if Oscar at South Street Hats ever drove a 49 Oldsmobile. Now there was a car with headroom!