I’ve got a confession to make. I love hats.
Long before hipsters strolled the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York sporting snap brim, modified fedoras that typically look more like Bing Crosby playing golf than Frank Sinatra swinging at the Sands, I’d buy head gear at flea markets and garage sales: women’s hats from the ’40s and ’60s (love the pillbox), cloches from the ’20s, men’s hats (mostly fedoras) from the ’30s through the ’60s. I’ve worn derbies, cowboy hats, tam o’shanters, Venetian boat hats, Greek fishermen’s caps, and even a top hat, the latter in an effort to summon my inner Marlene Dietrich.
So I love the lids, okay? But my favorite, my head gear that I can’t live without … a fedora.
Even the word conjures up the essence of mystery. And as a crime fiction writer—particularly of the hard-boiled school—I get to indulge my fedora craze on an official basis. I’d like to say I planned fedora-wearing as a personal trademark and all that, but the truth is I wanted a way for my Internet buddies to find me in a crowded conference. I looked around for an appropriate piece of clothing, and … voilà! I chose a fedora, a crushable gray, good for travel. The hat proved to be a hit. I was easy to spot in a crowd. And the headgear made me feel less nervous.
Flash forward to my very first author photos…here, too, I wanted to set myself apart from the stern-looking, typical literary poses. I went for a noir look, and, again, wore a fedora…this one an actual vintage Paramount lid from the early 1940s (gray, wide brim, high crown). The fedora became a de facto trademark, especially after my book jacket photos (new Dobbs fedora, short crown, wide brim).
One of my favorites is a present … a glorious orange sherbet fedora from Paris, with a purple ribbon. C’est magnifique! And now I have a collection of vintage, new, winter, summer, brown, gray, black, cream, red, straw, and felt fedoras that numbers close to fifty. So I thought I’d share ten reasons why I love fedoras. If it makes you open up the attic to dig out your grandparents’ old hats, I’ve accomplished my purpose!
Editor’s note: And read on for a chance to win a one-of-a-kind piece of fedora fan art!
1) “You look like a mystery writer.” I’ve heard this more times than I can count, and it’s all due to the fedora. Fedoras are associated with detectives, and, since not many people have framed photos of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett on their walls, their image of a hard-boiled mystery writer is that of a hard-boiled detective.
2) Fedoras are fashion history. The fedora as headgear spanned the hat-wearing decades of the 20th century, so you can change up your look and attitude by swapping a wide-brim for a short-brim and vice versa. If you want to summon up your inner Dick Tracy, go for a wide brim, higher crown model identified with the 1930s. If you want to look like a wise guy, try a snap brim from the early 1960s, à la the Rat Pack. Or try a Panama, the fedora for summer.
3) Fedoras are also fashion forward. Look around you … see all the kids wearing the short brim variety? If you look good in a hat—and most people can find at least one hat that suits them—fedoras will withstand the ebb and flow of high fashion and always, always be au courant.
4) Fedoras travel well. In an airplane, I’ve used my fedora to shield my eyes and maintain my privacy. You can find crushable fedoras that spring back into shape, ready for a day of action as soon as you hit baggage claim.
5) Fedoras are unisex and eternally romantic. Proof? Go watch the airport scene in Casablanca.
6) Fedoras are a point of conversation. Some of my first vintage hats were owned by my grandmother. You can spark reminiscences with a hat!
7) Fedoras help you focus. I’ve got an old Champ writing fedora—beat up, moth eaten, a real reporter’s type hat from the ’40s—that I wear when I’m writing. Not only does it help me channel Miranda Corbie, my hard-boiled female detective from 1940 San Francisco, but it also warns my household that I’m incommunicado. It’s also a much less toxic time travel device than bourbon and Chesterfields …
8) Fedoras go with hat boxes. The art of the hat box is almost lost. Most of mine are vintage—they were built to last. Tough enough to travel on a Pullman, vintage hat boxes are beautifully designed and a joy to own.
9) Fedoras mean trips to hat shops. Every book tour brings me to Seattle or Portland, where two of my favorite book shops and hat shops are located, and of course … I’ve got to buy a new hat. Bernie Utz in Seattle still uses a gold leaf stamping machine to stencil your initials in the inside brim of your fedora. Class, baby, class.
10) Fedoras are always cool. Whether you’re in line at a film noir event or the supermarket, fedoras register as cool and sophisticated, and give off a vibe of confidence. If I want to be incognito, I leave the fedora at home.
So what are you waiting for? Go try one on! And tell ’em Kelli sent you …
All hat model close-ups courtesy of the author’s own fedora gallery— go covet them all!
Also, if you'd like to try out a Miranda Corbie short story set in 1939, “Memory Book” in its entirety is exclusively here.
Those chapeaux are no easy act to follow, but we at Crime HQ just knew there must be an extra-special piece of crafty fan art that—no matter the weather or wearer’s hat size—could represent the almost magically transformative superpowers of the fedora. And here it is, in latch hook, no less!
This plush bit of awesome is just over 13 inches square, will arrive mounted in a simple frame suitable for hanging, and whether as coat of arms, lucky charm, or kitschy celebration, it’ll be the perfect thing for above the battered file cabinet with the boozy bottom drawer. Just leave a registered comment about your own travels through Fedoraville, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win!
This sweepstakes has ended. Check out our Sweepstakes feature page for current opportunities.
To enter for a chance to win the fabulous, fantastic latch-hooked fedora pictured above, make sure you’re a registered member of the site, sign in, and then simply leave a comment below. TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In! NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2013/01/welcome-to-fedoraville-fedora-brim-crown-10-reasons-kelli-stanley beginning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) January 29, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 10:59 a.m. ET on February 5, 2013 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at https://www.criminalelement.com/page/official-rules-fedoraville-comments-contest. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010
Kelli Stanley is the award-winning author of City of Dragons and City of Secrets, “starring one of crime’s most arresting heroines: angry, big-hearted, and fearless Miranda Corbie” (Library Journal, starred review). Kelli also writes the Roman noir series (The Curse-Maker, Nox Dormienda). She lives in San Francisco.