For the moment, I’m focused on what to do to expand the hat collection and so take some weight off the Voyager. It was bought deliberately because its soft construction and dark brown colour made it very versatile – good with both suits (if worn with brown shoes) and more casual clothes. Now it’s time to find two more hats, one more casual and one more formal.
Here I’m going to concentrate on the latter. Several things make a hat more formal. It tends to be made with a thicker felt, and therefore be harder. It tends to be lined, giving it structure internally. It tends to have a thicker ribbon. And it will tend to a broader brim.
Linings are pretty impractical as they are the first thing to wear through, but they certainly make for a smarter hat. A broader brim isn’t necessarily more formal but there is an association there – the original English trilby was the racing felt, and in these circumstances a horserace is not a formal event.
The Voyager is a thin, unlined felt with a thin ribbon and a relatively narrow brim. All these things make it easy to roll and travel with, as well as being more casual. I’m talking here only about trilbys and fedoras by the way – what most men would think of as a proper hat – and nothing more extravagant like a Homburg or a bowler.
With these things in mind, I went down to Lock & Co last week to browse through the options. The Chelsea is a lovely shape with quite a narrow brim (probably the closest thing here to an original racing felt) but quite square in the crown. The Madison is slightly broader in the brim but had too high a crown for me.
(You can tell how arbitrary the trilby/fedora distinction is by the fact that Lock classifies the Madison as a trilby and the Chelsea as a fedora, despite the latter’s brim being narrower.)
In the end, I chose the Borsalino. It has a noticeably broader brim than the Voyager and so is a departure for me, but I loved the shape elsewhere and the softness of the felt. Borsalino says it makes all its felt with wild rabbits rather than farmed ones.
I also considered a grey Voyager because I love the style so much, but with the addition of a broader ribbon – something Lock’s does cheaply and quickly.
A dark grey or black should be the default formal choice, rather than navy. Hats are more like shoes than suits in that way.