FEDORAS GALORE — Here’s a snapshot from a 1954 barbecue in Jacksonville. This campaign event was for Charley Johns, the acting governor of Florida from late 1953 to early 1955. He was the man in the white fedora hat and black coat in the middle of the picture. Mr. Johns assumed office after the death of Governor Dan McCarty, but he lost the 1954 election to keep his position. During the Fifties, an outdoor photo of a large group of men usually included lots of hats, for many adult males wouldn’t go bareheaded in public. Whereas baseball caps prove popular today, hats from yesteryear included fedoras, porkpies, and panamas. Consider the fedora-topped Indiana Jones, a character based in the ’30s & ’40s. (Source of picture: Florida State Archives)
“YEAH, BABY!” — During in the Sixties, the mens hat market almost bottomed out. Why did this occur? First, let’s clear up a myth: President John F. Kennedy did not kill the hat industry in 1961. Numerous sources claim that the young leader broke tradition and went bareheaded throughout his inauguration. Actually, he did not usher in a “brave, new hatless era,” according to the Urban Legends Reference Pages at Snopes.com. As piles of photos indicate, Kennedy donned the customary silk top hat during the presidential ceremony.
The Sixties catchphrase, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” gives evidence of what happened to headwear sales. The biggest reason for the decline of hats was an anti-establishment feeling. Most baby boomers rejected the hat as a symbol of their fathers’ conformism. During the psychedelic era, many young men dressed like John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, or Jerry Garcia. Making the scene were big-haired men in groovy garments like sandals, bell bottoms, fringe vests, tie-dye T-shirts, and maybe a headband. Other guys went for the look worn so well by the later character Austin Powers (“Yeah, baby!”). They donned such cool attire as puffy sleeved paisley shirts in bright fluorescent colors and flared velvet pants in purples, oranges, and greens. Flowered prints also proved hot, and so did jewelry among some males.
Over the past twenty years, hats have made a small comeback due to “retro” styles like zoot suits and ’30s gangster outfits–not to mention the fedoras sported by 5 Points hipsters. However, the heyday for formal headwear has long faded.
~written by Glenn Emery