The Kentucky Derby, sometimes called the “Greatest 2 minutes in sports” is all about spectacle. And let's be honest, the horses are only a small fraction of the Derby's appeal. When I think of the Kentucky Derby I think of three things: mint juleps, pastel, and hats. Big hats, colorful hats, hats bursting with feathers and flowers; generally it's the ladies that get to be the headwear show ponies (Horse jokes! Don't hate.) but let's not forget that the Derby is where menswear gets to be playful. Brightly colored suits, pastel prints, preppy bowties, the styles aim towards taking the usual formality of suit and tie and turning it into a springtime celebration. The key is to have fun but maintain a tasteful elegance throughout, and with some of the custom brightly colored Borsalinos and Phrenology hats Porkpie Hatters has been making, it's becoming easier to bring this style outside of the tracks.
But wait, you may say, that may do well for Kentucky, but seersucker in the city? Yes seersucker in the city! Yes to an impeccable cream panama. Here's the biggest key to making a Kentucky Derby, southernly smooth, dandy gentleman look relevant to the gritty streets of NYC: Have fun with it. Not comfortable with wearing a full pastel suit? Pick elements that will pop like matching your necktie to a brightly colored hatband on your straw boater. Want to add a little edge to your look? Add some graffiti style prints to your repertoire. It's not for everyone but designer Walter van Beirondonck's Fall 2012 collection is one of my absolute favorites for turning formal menswear on its head. Though the runway looks themselves definitely skirt the edge of weird, there are positive elements to take away from the collection. Take note of the bright color combinations and the mixture of old-school prints with graphic details. It's about playing, taking details that we consider very prim and outmoded and literally cutting new shapes into them. The cuts are well tailored and slim. The print combinations and color choices are eye-catching and complimentary. It's not just being weird for weird's sake, it's holding up a mirror to what we attribute to formal wear. Although this collection was meant for a more in your face audience and colder weather (a leather bowler might be a bit much in the sun for both stylistic and practical reasons) the color choices, combination of prints, and colorful headwear to match are definite style notes to incorporate into a reasonable wardrobe.
The Kentucky Derby happens only once a year, but if we're breaking the seal on that light grey suit, I say keep it in play. Keep pairing the classics with unexpected twists, and you've got a look that is continually fresh and relevant. I'm actually going to quote the Kentucky Derby's official website where they opine on what's the usual attire for their event: “...Men just need to be confident. No matter what you wear, it's how you wear it, gentlemen.” I think that is great advice. Feel confident. Have fun. Go on, tip that brim to a jauntier angle, it's spring!
For those that feel they need a little more inspiration, I threw together a quick pinterest board, including actual looks from street snaps and such. The industry can oft bend towards fashion for fashion's sake so it's refreshing to see looks pulled off in the wild. Check it out here.
In Victorian times the hat stand was one of the most prominent pieces of furniture in the household, often the first thing seen upon entering. Because of this, hat stands evolved from being purely utilitarian to being a sign of wealth and taste, with decorative elements overshadowing utility. It was not long before displaying a hat was just as important as merely holding one. Unfortunately today it’d be impossible to fit an entire hallways worth of scribed wood and brass fastenings into the average New York apartment so Sean, owner of Pork Pie Hatters came up with a plan to find a better alternative. The goal: find a method of storing hats that fit into the NY lifestyle that was also a way of displaying pieces to their best effect.
For this project he hit up artist and engineer Matthew Borgatti, who has also been working with Pork Pie hatters on a number of other projects including cnc machined hat blocks and the door displays at both stores (more on this powerhouse collaboration later). A veteran of digital fabrication, Matthew immediately looked to his laser cutter for the answer to Sean’s dilemma. Because like anyone that has the ability to harness the power of lasers, one has to ask “should I use this for good or for awesome?” Modeled after vintage wig stands, the stand is designed to break down and set up with the use of a quarter while still maintaining the primary goals of being functional and attractive. Standing on three legs that end in pigtail curls, the wood is naturally outlined by the scorching left behind from the laser, similar to the way traditional woodworkers burn edges to create clean finishes. The advantage of using the laser cutter is that it handles several of the processes at once, cutting, finishing, and even engraving the tiny pig and Pork Pie logo with precision.
Although the construction of the hat stand was pretty straightforward, the packaging was another story. Looking for a way to convey a complete experience to the Pork Pie customer, Matthew looked to old school block printing techniques to get the proper feel for the packaging. Again using the laser cutter, he was able to etch the rubber and cut the various plates that comprise the printing jig. And although it took some finagling to get everything to fit just right, he was able to construct a customized printing press without waiting on specialty parts and redesigns.
Hat stands have become rare in a society obsessed with being fast and compact. But there is still a demand for keeping hats pristine like any investment in style; all without breaking the bank, taking up space or being an eyesore. The lasercut hat stand is just one of the ways Pork Pie Hatters has been using technology to bring back elements of the traditional. Everything from the hat stand itself to the rubber stamps used for its packaging have been made with a laser cutter, but as a means of streamlining old techniques of construction and printing not replacing. Who is to say we can’t revive the best of the past using the tools of the future?
If you want one of these stands for yourself, they'll soon be available online. In the meantime you can pick one up at Pork Pie Hatters or JJ Hat Center in person. To see more of the stands and what went into making them check out Numi's photos on Flickr.
PorkPie Hatters in Williamsburg is part hat store and part workshop. Beyond the cabinet stocked full of bowlers, fedoras, and panama hats is a clear view of craftsmen at work turning limp felt into the clean structured shapes we are familiar with. It is a little bit like magic. The billowing steam and measured pulls against the hat block make it seem like they are doing something supernatural and, to our modern society that disconnects makers and consumers, they are. The magic that happens isn't just that the shop makes hats by hand using a combination of old and new technology, but what that means on a larger scale for the American economy. Porkpie is one of many small companies on the forefront of a movement that is bringing competitive advantages back to the manufacturing process in the USA.
It's hard not to notice the growing prevalence of “Made in the USA” tags. Even in the visual overload of subway advertising, the “Made in NY” logo jumps out more and more. It's not just me, manufacturing in the US has been a consistent talking point in media lately from Time magazine to the Economist to President Obama's State of the Union address. According to Time Magazine “The U.S. Has seen its manufacturing growth outpace that of other advanced nations, with some 500,000 jobs created in the past three years. [...] Every $1 of manufacturing activity returns $1.48 to the economy.” It's being called the manufacturing renaissance and it is steadily raising the status of “Made in the USA” labels.
What is worth noting is that it is the small manufacturers and designers that are creating the bulk of this momentum. Realizing they cannot compete with large companies mass producing goods overseas, the focus of many of these small companies is on quality and innovation. All these factors have been creating greater demand for US made products. Willy Shih, co-author of Producing Prosperity: Why America Needs a Manufacturing Renaissance wrote “The ability to make things is fundamental to the ability to innovate things over the long term […] When you give up making products you lose a lot of the added value”. I'll go deeper into technological innovations with Porkpie in a later post (so watch for that), but what is important to take away from this quote is that the strength our economy gains from innovation can only be acquired through a history of domestic manufacturing. In Porkpie Hatters case, though it first opened its doors in 2011, owner Sean O'Toole comes from a long line of haberdashers and is no stranger to the process.
The hat you get from Porkpie has an element of the traditional, of old techniques and hand craftsmanship that sets it apart. The value of that end product is readily apparent. But to our changing economy the value of manufacturing in the US translates to a brighter future of growth overall. Having a shop that can produce traditional quality goods, customize instantly, and evolve its methods and technology with the demands of customers gives Porkpie a leading edge in this manufacturing renaissance.
Pork Pie Hatters East village customer Chris Wallace was recently featured in a street style shoot for Details Magazine. In the pictures he looks great! Firstly, I commend Chris on his overall look and his ability to pull off a Borsalino Classico with ease. What caught my attention was the perfectly worn-in condition of his fedora. It quickly sparked a debate in the shop about hat care and maintenance. The traditionalists argued quite convincingly that hat care was part of responsible hat ownership. That the hats we sell are made with such care and attention to detail that it is a shame to let them be worn to the edge of destruction. The guys spend their days reconditioning hats that have been worn for decades. They said that taking proper care of a hat is the right thing to do.
The less fussy salesmen argued that If you love your hat, it doesn't matter how you show your love. Some people express it by obsessively keeping it out of the rain, and bringing it in every few weeks for a free cleaning and a steam. Others, including Mr. Wallace, wear their hats in, get them just the way they like them, and use them as an umbrella. We have equal respect for both types of hat guys. However I must say that there is something about a properly broken-in hat. A hat that has seen things that you've seen and felt things that you've felt. It is irreplaceable. Luckily we're here to help you try! ; )
Holl NYC* has launched their fall/winter collection at our stores. Come in or shop online to see these amazing handcrafted scarves and accessories. All materials and finishes are curated by the founder himself and crafted by the finest craftsmen, right here in New York City. The season is here for warmth, and these scarves can provide a cozy alternative to the drab plaids and sullen solids that you have in your closet.
*Holl NYC is a company founded by by G.E. Holl in 2011 with the ambition of elevating the usage of accessories in men's fashion. They use only the finest quality products and finishes, and are committed to redefining men's dress. All Holl NYC products are designed and manufactured with pride in the U.S.A.
We are New York's oldest and one of the world's most renowned hat shops. Established in 1911, we bring you the finest hats and caps coupled with excellent service and a staff consisting of some of the most knowledgeable hat people in the industry. We provide hands on service, expert advice and a well rounded selection of headwear that includes fedoras, newsboy caps, berets and much more.