A Brief History of Pork Pie Hats
The pork pie hat has been a staple of hatting culture for the past century. It’s origins are commonly attributed to Buster Keaton who would alter felt fedoras to have a short, flat top and starch the brim flat with a solution made of sugar and water. This emulated the style of the straw boater hats which were very much in vogue at the time.
It didn’t take long for Keatons style to take hold in culture (being an early star of silent film), and soon the pork pie was taken and developed in the more recognisable style of today, the top having a little extra head space and the brim curled up at the edges. This style became popular in the exploding Jazz scene, most notably with saxophonist Lester Young (to whom an ode was composed by the late, great Charlie Mingus with ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’). Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, musicians that took influence from Jazz also adopted the hat, becoming almost synonymous with Ska, Rude Boy, and Blues music.
Pork Pies also appeared on the both the big and small screen, with Art Carney wearing one playing Ed Norton in the Honeymooners, Gene Hackman ‘Popeye’ Doyle in The French Connection, but in my mind none more significant in todays landscape than when Bryan Cranston donned his now Iconic pork pie hat as Walter Whites alter ego Heisenberg in Breaking Bad (The choice was, in fact, utilitarian, Cranston only wearing a hat to protect his freshly shaven head from the New Mexico sun). Such was the impact of this performance that the Pork Pie was ubiquitously known as a Heisenberg Hat for a good few years after the show concluded.
Who wears the hat?
Anyone with a long, short, or oval-shaped face can wear a pork pie hat, but those with a round or square face should perhaps choose a slightly softer ‘trilby’ shape. A porkpie hat has a lower crown than a trilby or fedora hat, making it excellent for people who are already tall and don't want to gain any more height. As a rule of thumb, you should look for the brim of a hat to be wider than your jaw line, which is why a pork pie is best to be avoided if you have a round or square face.
How to Style It
As Heisenberg displays, the ideal way to wear a pork pie hat is to wear it sitting level on the top of your head. A pork pie, like the trilby, may be worn to dress up or down an ensemble.