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My View: Hats off to hats

By Jim Williams

For many years I had a dress hat hidden away in my basement. Upon close inspection, and for those who know quality hats, this was a beaver and silk Borsalino fedora. What rekindled my interest in this "chapeau" was an interesting and informative article that appeared in Buffalo Magazine which is a monthly supplement to The Buffalo News.  The article was about a retail shop called the Custom Hatter.

I became intrigued with the Custom Hatter so one weekday morning I drove down Broadway to Buffalo's East Side. Upon entering the shop I was treated to a wonderful enlightening experience. Tucked away in this small, quaint shop was not only a marvelous collection of dress and Western hats, but a warm friendly craftsman so proud of the hats he designed for his valued clients. Spending time with this gentlemen conjured fond memories of the long gone days of the dress hat era.

As a young man I will never forget my interview for a sales position at the now shuttered Kleinhans Company. If I may reflect for a moment, it has been 25 years since this iconic men's clothing haberdashery closed their doors. This store had a collection of men's dress hats that covered the entire north side of the first floor of their downtown location.

Well, let's get back to the interview. After the manager looked at my resume, (actually it was an application, I was only 22 years old, how could I have a resume) to my excitement I was offered a position as a clothing salesman in the Men's College Shop. Upon leaving, the interviewer across from me said, "Mister Williams" (WOW, now I'm a Mister"), before you begin your employment you must buy and wear a dress hat. Up to this point the only headwear I wore was a baseball cap in the summer or a woolen cap to keep my head and ears warm during those cold, snowy Buffalo winters. So I walked downstairs to the hat department and after trying on numerous styles and shapes, I purchased my first dress hat. I must admit I looked and felt a little strange.

Jim Williams

I know during the early 1960s, dress hats were still a fashionable part of a well-dressed gentleman's wardrobe. Looking back, I always thought my dad looked handsome wearing his hat. But for me, I didn't feel comfortable. So be it. I walked out of the store with my first dress hat. After a while, I must admit, I liked the way I looked. I seemed to be more "distinguished," but on the down side, a little bit older.

So what happened to hats? With no specific time line, President Kennedy carrying but not wearing a hat, The Beatles invasion not only with their music but also with their long hair, and the proliferation of the inside mall shopping centers, hats began to lose their popularity and usefulness.

But don't fret, headwear is back! This time not in the form of dress hats, but in the classic baseball cap. These are the hats of today. You can wear them forward, backward and even sideways. Isn't it interesting to see well-dressed men walking down the street with that trendy baseball cap?

By the way, when was the last time you saw a gentlemen tip his hat when a lady walked by? And you younger churchgoers, upon entering places of worship built long ago, have you ever wondered what those little metal clips attached to the back of the pews were used for? If you answered that they were to hold men's hats, you are correct. And for those who had the correct answer, "Hats off to you."

Jim Williams of Buffalo watches changing trends in men's headwear.

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