Fitting devices at Lock & Co.

Steering clear of titfer tat

We now are seeing the first flowering of a head-dress renaissance


This article is taken from the May 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

In Bangkok at twelve o’clock they foam at the mouth and run,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Noël Coward knew a thing or two about the English psyche and the secret to our suave self-assurance. Like the sun himself, Coward always went out with his hat on. Whether in a Homburg about town, a brown Epsom in the country, or a pristine Panama aboard a P&O steamer en route East, the Master was not for burning. Sadly, that lesson has been lost to at least two generations of gentlemen, who happily go about bareheaded save perhaps for the brutalist embellishment of a baseball cap.

Thankfully we now are seeing the first flowering of a head-dress renaissance, thanks to TV’s depiction of Wilkinson Sword-wielding hardmen from Birmingham and nugget-chasing ex-herdsmen from Bathurst, Ballarat and Bendigo, Australia.

Baker boy cap

The popularity of Peaky Blinders has led to a revival in interwar fashions including the baker boy cap, cloning Cillian Murphy on the nation’s racecourses. At the same time Aussie Gold Hunters has glamorised the outback cattle-hats sported by bushwackers as they sweat their way toward their smelting targets. Both have helped our hard-pressed hatters to offer England’s youth stylish substitutes for battered baseball hats.

On God’s own thoroughfare, London’s Jermyn Street, those in search of top-covering tams will find Bates Hatters sharing house with Hilditch & Key, the shirtmakers. Founded at the end of the 19th century by James Bates, the business is still going strong. From the classic trilby to (in my opinion) the tragic beanie, you can find more or less any titfer in a variety of colours, trims and silk bands.

I especially like the piped brim of the “Brown Charlie”, which cuts a dash any day of the week. As Bates supplied the eight-panelled caps for Peaky Blinders, they will doubtless be able to assist any young blade aspiring to achieve that razor-sharp look.

Down the hill on St James’s street is Lock & Co., the oldest hatters in London and the proud possessors of a Royal Warrant. Their fine craftsmen can turn their hand to anything from a Breton cap to a brown bowler, but for me Lock will always be the home of the holiday hat with their gorgeous array of airy yet hardy summer Panamas.

Made from traditional Toquilla straw by Ecuadorean craftsmen, these hats take your breath away and yet still allow your head to breathe. The rollable Panama is a perennial favourite, although I do like the Fairbanks Mocha with its rich colour and striking silver band.

I have not even begun to mention Christys’ or Herbert Johnson, who have crowned more crowned heads of Europe than most archbishops.

Yet protection from “sultry ultry-violet rays” is not the preserve of the home market. Thanks to Aussie Gold Hunters, interest in all things antipodean has grown. Akubra, Aussie hat-makers for over a century, have now been acquired by private investor, Tattarang. They offer a range of handsome headgear, from the rugged Snowy River with its stylish leather band and feathering, to the exotic Riverina (think big brim) and the more conventional Cattleman. All are real rabbit-fur felt and satin-lined and simply ooze outback atmosphere. You do not have to book a flight on Qantas to acquire one. A parking space on Burford High Street, home of Elm, Akubra’s British distributors, will be enough to secure your hat.

The moral of the story is this: whilst not every hat suits every head, every head can find a suitable hat. Summon up the spirit of Coward, and try on a trilby or purchase a pork pie. Unlike “Hindoos and Argentines”, though you may detest a siesta, you will adore a fedora.

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