‘Titfers’ (‘tit-for-tat’ = ‘hat’, is Cockney rhyming slang) and ‘tiles’ have, apart from still serving a function as weather shields, been in gradual decline as western clothing since the 1960s, when JFK (although top-hatted for his inauguration), decided to go largely hatless. His influence was such that his reported enjoyment of Ian Fleming’s Bond books boosted their sales at the same time that he more or less single-handedly consigned hats to history; well, nearly.
Hats certainly lingered for a while amongst the older generation, especially for work but the men’s hat which has survived the least scathed is the classless tweed cap, and not just for country sporting activities but even in town; especially on those who commute in from the countryside. However, it is no longer seen in the massed ranks of labourers and football match spectators as it was sixty years ago.
Anyway, until my attention was drawn to a feature in the London Evening Standard recently, I remained of the view that hats had become things largely just for Olduns and Chaps (that is to say, those with retro-centric inclinations in dress). It seems, though, that the film The King’s Speech, which hams-up the speech problems of King George VI and puts a modern Italian coat on Colin Firth in the part, also tripped some switches in the public consciousness with a very fine black bowler\ derby\ coke hat, which looks as though it was probably made bespoke by Patey Hats. Consequently, although there are no reports yet of riotous assemblies or any storming of Patey’s, Lock’s, Herbert Johnson and Bates, hats are back on the streets and, apparently, even the catwalks. Young fellows (and not just Chaps) have been seen on the streets in bowlers, fedoras and trilbies, as well as flat caps. I always think that evidence of hats, gloves and practical handkerchiefs are signs that western civilization is still twitching; despite all the modern madness, and very real fears that everything worthwhile is going to the dogs.
Julian Fellowes, creator of the film Gosford Park and the television series Downton Abbey, mentions in one of his books that men stopped wearing toppers at smart weddings at some point in the 1980s. Maybe the seeming resurgence in hats will bring even these back for special occasions beyond Royal Ascot. I would find that quite a treat.