The hats of author Ned Brown

Monday, April 13th 2020
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In our recent article on Wellema, much of the conversation in the comments centred around the relevance and wearability of hats today. 

So I thought it would be interesting to look into the habits and collection of a reader, in this case author and semi-retired political adviser Ned Brown. 

Ned spent much of his career in Washington, but now lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and is  long-time hat wearer. He tends to wear high crowns, and also has a penchant for big brims - both perhaps balanced by his physical stature. 

He sees hats as very much an expression of his character, although very practical too - particularly in the sun of the southern US. And maintains them like old friends. 

Below is, first, Ned in his own words, followed by a few questions from me. 

“My first hat was a Texas Rancher's Borsalino that I bought in San Antonio, Texas over 30 years ago. I was living in New Jersey at the time, and wore that hat nearly every weekend from October to April. It was an essential part of my casual wardrobe. The late, great author Pat Conroy [above, left, with Ned] tried unsuccessfully to convince me that the hat would look better on him.

In the 1980's, I was working for Young & Rubicam Advertising on Madison Avenue in New York. By chance, Worth & Worth hat shop was located just down the street. They had a fabulous selection of quality hats. I would regularly venture in during my lunch break, and whenever there was a sale, I would invariably buy a new hat. Sadly, they moved in the '90's, as did I.

I did not start wearing and collecting straw hats until I came to Charleston, South Carolina over 20 years ago. In the South, hats serve a practical purpose to keep you cooler in the intense summer heat. I also drive a Mini convertible, and have a specific hat to wear that will not blow off when the car is going 90 kph.

Borsalino almost went out of business 40 years ago when hats fell out of favour. Fortunately, they became a prestige item for Orthodox Jewish men to own and wear in the the New York area. A young man receiving his first Borsalino after his bar mitzvah was a rite of passage. They kept Borsalino in business.

Hats used to play an essential role in dictating the design of certain things. For instance, the roof height of the 1950's and early 1960's Rolls-Royce or Bentley had to accommodate a gentleman wearing a hat. When President Kennedy went hatless at his January 1961 inauguration, that event almost single-handedly killed the hat business, and the roof height of Rolls/Bentleys subsequently dropped by the late '60s.

Hats should be an essential part of a well-dressed man's wardrobe. 

And by the way, like properly shined shoes, women notice. But just remember, no man will ever look as good as Cary Grant wearing a hat, but that shouldn't keep you from trying."

Permanent Style: What advice would you have for someone that doesn't normally wear hats? How should they start?

Ned: Always start with functionality: how will the hat be used, and how does it fit into your life? Next, quality: like good shoes, get the best materials and craftsmanship. And finally is style: how does it fit your personal look?

How would you say your hats fit your personal look? How did you discover that? 

I read a remarkable book some years ago called ‘Crowns’. It was a photo book about African-American woman and their Sunday hats for church. One protocol I learned was that a woman never shares her hats with anyone; they are distinctly hers, and an expression of who she is. I sort of used that guidance in my own hat selection, and my own style. 

Several years ago, I was at a polo match wearing my wide brim Sam Houston Panama hat. After the match, Nacho Figueres (champion polo player and Ralph Lauren model) rode by, pointed to me, and said, "Cool hat."

Did you find it difficult, or feel self-conscious, when you first started wearing hats regularly?

Not really. I started wearing hats when I was about 30. I suspect some thought it was a tad dandy-ish, but people became accustomed to seeing me with a hat on - sort of a personal signature thing.

Have you ever had hats made bespoke? 

No, but I plan to have the casual wide brim Churchill wore made bespoke, though I will skip the PM's jumpsuits. 

How do you look after your hats? 

I had a wonderful gentleman to care for my hats when I lived in New York. Now that I live in Charleston, I gently hand wash them myself. Humidity is the enemy of beaver and hare, so I store my hats in a climate controlled closet on a wire shelf for proper air circulation.

How do you wash them yourself?

This is an early fall rite of passage for me. You need a steam iron, clean cloth, mild, organic cleaning solution, a bristle shoe brush dedicated to hat cleaning, a pint, and then plop yourself in front of the telly to watch a Premier League match.

Gently use the brush over all parts of the beaver or hare to get out any dust, which also reinvigorates the materials. Then, lightly spray the hat with the solution. Also spray a folded cloth with the solution, and press down on it with a steam iron so that it absorbs the heat and steam. 

Softly wipe down the hat, and keep repeating. Each hat takes about 20 minutes to do. I use a bit of Lexol on a rag for the inner leather band. 

[Above: Ned's current rotation of hats sitting on his bed - all Borsalino save the green, which is Christy's. Below that, the inside of the Rancher's hat - Ned's first acquisition, and by his own admission, really in need of a new sweatband]

Do you wear different sizes or styles of hats with different clothes? For example, an overcoat on the one hand, and just a summer shirt on the other?

I wear black, brown, blue or green to match what I am wearing. But otherwise no, I don’t vary them with other clothes. 

However, some proportion to the brim size and the lapel with the coat, for example, seems right. I think you've got it right from the photos I've seen of you wearing a coat and a hat

I have several wonderful bespoke overcoats hanging in my closet, but living in Charleston, I can wear them perhaps 2-3 times in a season. And as for traveling with an overcoat, I try to make it practice during winter to not go to a place colder than the place I left.

["Hats should have a story," says Ned. "In this photo, notice that the edge of hat is frayed on both sides. Two of my 4-month-old pups in Jamaica found it, and thought it would be a fun tug-of-war toy."]

Ned's forthcoming book, The Caribbean Golden Era: Jamaica 1946-1962, will be released in Fall 2020.

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A bit off-topic but linked to the comment on Rolls-Royce rooflines. I heard recently that the ‘doctor’s coupe’ style of car bodywork – when not just one’s clothes and shoes but one’s cars, too, were bespoke – was so-called because even when top hats had fallen largely out of use, in the 1920’s, doctors kept on wearing them. I don’t know whether the story is true but it is truly a case of ‘se non e vero, e ben trovato’.

Mark Seitelman

Worth & Worth is still in business I n New York under owner/designer Orlando Palacios. He makes private label hats as well as custom hats.


Isn’t it kind of a myth that Kennedy killed the hat industry? He did in fact wear a hat for the inauguration and hat sales were already in decline.

Juan Manuel

Adam…Thank you so much… I was guilty as well…

Simon, a very nice and helpful interview… As for being self-conscious when wearing a hat, what Ned Brown comments is absolutely spot on… When my habitual newspaper seller sees me without a hat on… he always asks me what’s up!


Yes, this is one myth that never seems to die. In fact JFK was under a lot of pressure from the hatting industry to wear hats more often, specifically because their sales were already declining.


Hi Simon,

Apologies if this is the wrong avenue for this question: can you
recommend a tailor in Boston, MA? The tailors I used to go to (Rizzo’s
in Harvard, Tad at JPress in Harvard) are both retired. I don’t know
where I’d get my suit tailored anymore.

Speaking of suits, any recommendations for Neopolitan-styled suit
makers? I’m quite muscular so brands like RLPL (St Andrews) and Tom Ford
look ridiculous on me with heavy shoulder padding and a roped shoulders.
I have larger arms and traps so I need a natural shoulder and I really
like how my Isaia suit fits (just enough padding for structure). I also
have a d’Avenza sport coat with basically no shoulder padding which also
looks amazing.

Considering Cesare Attolini, Kiton, Luciano Barbera, Orazio Luciano, Sartorio Formosa, Stefano Ricci, Saint Gregory, and of course, still Isaia and d’Avenza if they’re as good as the others.

Any other recommendations or impressions of those suit makers?


What a great example of ‘Permanent Style”.
Mark you, ‘Charleston’ is a town that definitely suits hats and I love his mantra of ‘trying not to go to a place colder than I left’ in winter.


Does anyone know the brand of straw hat worn above? Its wonderful

Ned Brown

Sorry I missed this. I get my straw hats from a woman in West Palm Beach, Florida, who imports Montecristi hats from Ecuador. I’m in good company as George Hamilton, Alana & Rod Stewart buy from her as well. They are half the retail price.


Hi Simon,
a bit off-topic too, but you should definitely have a peek at a very talented young hat maker in Paris. Her name is Pauline Brosset. She has a small workshop rue Volta in the third arrondissement. She made a fedora for me a few years ago. We spent almost two hours narrowing down all the details. I had to wait about a month as she does everything herself by hand. And the result was superb.
“Vaut le voyage” as the green Michelin guide would say.

Ned Brown

I was just in Paris two weeks ago, but this time more focused on my cooking. Was looking for knives, pots and pans at Dehilerin. Will visit Pauline on my next trip in October. Fyi, Cody is making me a replica hat that Churchill sported while wearing his jumpers.

robert gault

The world of millinery (women’s hats) and the classic custom men’s fedora are very different beasts. Many milliners do stray over into the making of men’s fedoras but men need to be cautious of hiring a milliner to make a classic fedora. A milliner brings a different craft, different sensibilities to the creation. Perusing her website and looking at her creations it seems to me she comes very much from the millinery/fashion side of the craft and if a classic men’s fedora is what you seek then find a classic fedora maker not a milliner.

Ned Brown

Quarantine update: Each evening at 6 pm, my wife, Christina, and I go for a bicycle ride in the neighbourhood (permitted). I with hat and rum cocktail in hand. Many Charlestonians, on their piazzas (porches) with adult beverages in hand, wave, smile, and say hello.

Juan Manuel Ballesteros Allué

Cheers, then, Mr Brown, Simon and everyone!


I enjoyed this article, but can’t help wondering if you may be a Ned Brown I knew in 1968. That Ned also had a sense of style, and I enjoyed his company as we travelled out west with a traveling camp for teens. He made me a “cool” leather watchband, and sported a Hudsons Bay pattern duffle coat for the rest of the trip after purchasing it in the Canadian Rockies. Might you be that Ned Brown? If so, I send my greetings with fond memories of our adventures.

Ned Brown

Dear Jill, Thank you. I have fond memories of Camp Pennington. That Hudsons Bay blanket coat was around for years. Hope you are doing well, and now you have my email. Cheers,

Jill Dempster

Dear Ned, How fun to reconnect after all these years. I thought of you a few years ago when I was in Banff again, remembering riding a tandem bike ride with you around town there! Camp Pennington was truly a great experience for us. I’d share some old photos with you, but I think this note is public, so I’ll refrain here. If you’re interested, you could find me on the Camp Pennington group on Facebook. Looks like you’re living the good life in Charleston. I’m very happy for you. Take care, Jill Dempster


JFK, apparently, disliked hats and didn’t wear them much, which, possibly, played a role in the decline of hat wearing. However, he was actually the last president to wear a top hat and full formal morning attire to his inauguration. Many stylish men started avoiding hats in the 1950’s, if not earlier. Cary Grant often appears without hats in the 1940’s Hitchcock classic “Notorious”. Neither does he wear a hat in “To catch a thief” and “North by Northwest”. James Bond was another major influence on menswear styles, and while Sean Connery does wear a hat a few times in the early films, it looks like a redundant accessory on him that he wants to get rid of. Also, automobiles became low in the 1950’s, before JFK won the election. Did the change in car shapes influence fashion? Possibly…