MINNEAPOLIS — Long before Don Draper and Justin Timberlake brought sexy back to the fedora, hats were once as common on a man's head as socks on his feet. Simply put, a man was not properly dressed without one.
But along the way, hats faded into the back of men's closets, and the baseball cap eventually took over the pate.
Fast-forward a few decades: Tradition has reared its well-coiffed head again. Wide-brimmed, high-crowned, feather-adorned hats are resurgent at a time when celebrities and nostalgia-inspired TV shows such as "Boardwalk Empire" and "Mad Men" are telling men it's acceptable to care about their clothing — including the accessory on their head.
"Young people are driving the trend right now," said Anthony Andler, owner of Heimie's Haberdashery in St Paul, Minn. "They are seeing the benefits to dressing better. The job market and the girl market are both tough, so they want an edge that will help them compete."
Celebrities such as Timberlake, Johnny Depp, Bruno Mars and Brad Pitt are routinely spotted wearing old-school men's hats. The styles include the fedora, flat caps, Gatsbys, even the top hat. Andler said customers often come into his shop referencing hats they've seen on the heads of their favorite actors or musicians.
While pop culture is giving traditional hats their moment, Andler said a classic hat also serves a practical purpose. Coupled with an overcoat, a nice pair of shoes and gloves, a hat completes the package of a well-dressed man.
In 1940, there were 180 independent major manufacturers of hats in the United States, according to the New York Times. In 2011, there were only 10.
Since 2004, Heimie's has been one of the few Twin Cities stores where men could find a dedicated inventory of old-school hats. The local hat market has been heating up with the September opening of Goorin Bros. in Uptown.
That shop is the 26th location for a San Francisco-based company, a sign that the hat trend might be here to stay (again). Goorin-branded hats also are sold at Nordstrom and other stores.
Ashley Foucault, Goorin's Minneapolis store manager, said people often come in asking for Al Pacino's famous "Godfather" Homburg hat, but other customers have no idea what they want.
"I tell them, 'Let's play for a little while,'" said Foucault, who then experiments with different hats to find the perfect fit for her customers.
Men often come in looking to pair a hat with a specific outfit, especially a suit. She recommends bringing in the actual suit to properly match the hat.
She also tells customers to bring in their significant others. They have "the biggest veto power," Foucault said.
A similar fitting experience can be expected at Heimie's.
"People always reference 'Mad Men,'" Andler said. "They also say, 'I want a gangster hat,' and I tell them, 'No, you want a gentleman's hat.' Gangsters are all bums."
With prices ranging from $50 to more than $300 in both stores, the right fit is key to ensuring that men feel confident with their purchase.
"There is definitely the right hat for every face," Andler said.
Not everyone is a convert. On a recent night, Andrew Barry was trying on a variety of hats at Heimie's. But he wasn't shopping for himself; he was buying one for his brother. Barry still prefers baseball caps.
"The ball cap is much more functional to keep the sun out of your eyes," he said, holding a fedora in his hands. "This isn't that practical."
Andler said some men often do not have the confidence to wear a hat.
"Guys are still intimidated by putting on a hat with a wide brim and a high crown," Andler said. But once a man feels comfortable in it, "their confidence increases and they are more likely to reach for their fedora over a baseball cap."
In the end, wearing a hat comes down to one thing, according to Andler.
"You just want to own it," he said. "Have some hattitude."