As far as endangered sartorial species go, various indigenous strains of gentlemen’s headwear have purportedly been on the verge of extinction for over 50 years now, going back to that cold and wintry day in January of 1961 when U.S. President-elect John F. Kennedy chose to brave the elements sans top for his swearing-in ceremony (or so the legend goes). This may sound hard to believe, but once upon a time the broad-brimmed hat, and not the baseball cap, was the headwear of choice in this country. No, really - some minor sleuthing was undertaken and it appears to be true. Indeed, hats were so ubiquitous that the sartorial statement was in how one wore his headwear.
Hollywood played upon this idea as early as 1944’s The Big Sleep. Impersonating a collector of rare book editions, Humphrey Bogart’s Philip Marlowe transforms himself by removing his tie and leaving his collar buttoned – of course, the effect is only complete when Marlowe readjusts the front brim of his hat upward.
More recently, the writers of the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire emphasized Al Capone's evolution from merry prankster and generally irresponsible ne'er-do-well to a more focused, serious vice-lord by highlighting his switch from an 8-piece pie cap - or Newsboy or Gatsby - to the more staid and refined fedora. In reality, Capone managed to retain some of the more flamboyant aspects of his personality when he took control of Johnny Torrio's South Side gang. Not content to sport his fedora in the traditional manner, Capone - ever the dandy - preferred the jaunty style favored by the stylish and the debonair in the 1920s and 1930s – wide-brimmed and tilted rakishly, with the brim turned up to one side, as opposed to the more commonplace positioning wherein only the back end of the brim is up-turned.
As with many things sartorial, it was only a matter of time before this devil-may-care, swashbuckling effect was captured on the big screen and re-packaged for the masses. By 1940, Stetson was referring in advertisements to the style that Capone had flaunted in his 1929 mugshot as the ‘Hollywood Stars” look.
Happily, the “Hollywood” brim has recently undergone something of a resurgence. While the fedora in particular, and hats in general, still have a long road to travel to return to those, ahem, heady days of yesteryear, when every man on the street covered his head with something other than a baseball cap, beanie, or skully, the fedora’s popularity is certainly on the rise. While it’s too early to tell whether this is just another bump on the fedora’s long road back to respectability, one certainly has reason to be optimistic when cinematic heavyweights start dusting off the “Hollywood” brim style once again. Most of the credit for that should probably go to Johnny Depp, a noted headwear enthusiast who has managed to incorporate his love of hats into recent films like Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and, of course, Public Enemies. Depp’s exuberance apparently is genuine and not just the result of a well-crafted marketing campaign. It was reported a few years ago that his long-time paramour, Vanessa Paradis, demanded that his collection be whittled down, as the hordes of headwear had by then appropriated two full rooms in the couple’s Paris apartment.
Faced with such a dilemma, Depp appears to have sided with the hats - one of many acts that did not go unnoticed as he was voted the 2011 “Hat Person of the Year” by the Headwear Association, a 100 year-old organization whose mission is “to promote hat wearing and the headwear industry throughout the world and foster goodwill and fellowship among those engaged in the headwear industry.” And Depp, while certainly leading the charge, is not alone - Hugh Jackman, runner-up in the favorite hat-wearing male celebrity category, has also been seen sporting the “Hollywood” style. Further proof, if any was needed, that the fedora is indeed alive and well, after all these years.