There’s a progression for most of us who try to dress well when it comes to brimmed hats: first, looking at classic photos, you think “that hat looks great! I wonder….” Second, you try one on and look in the mirror. Third, you decide that the only people wearing hats with suits these days are hipsters and rappers. Fourth, you abandon the idea of a hat.
Been there, done that. But I had another experience that I think is worth sharing, and it’s changed my mind on the topic. I’d also very much like to send some foot and electronic traffic to a special store in the Crescent City that’s kept the faith through these past few decades of bareheadedness and baseball caps.
So, there I was on a summer day in New Orleans, the day after my bachelor party on Bourbon Street, and the day of my wedding rehearsal dinner. I could actually feel every single photon from the Louisiana sun blasting its way into my skull. Sunglasses helped some, but the idea of standing around for photos in Jackson Square made my teeth itch. Walking to my hotel, I came to Meyer the Hatter’s door on St Charles Ave, and interested in air conditioning about as much as portable shade, I stepped inside.
I should have realized that any store that had been in continuous business since 1894 would have a few devoted fans, but I didn’t realize how many celebrities were among them. It’s neat to browse their Facebook page and see that Chef Paul Prudhomme, Neil Patrick Harris, Sylvester Stallone, Aaron Neville, Nick Nolte, and Russell Brand have had the same experience of shopping there recently.
The shop was relatively busy, but after a few minutes of my poking around, an older gentleman approached and offered help. I told him my problem, and nodding that he’d heard it all many times before, he produced a handsome white straw hat with a turned-down brim and a black grosgrain ribbon. “I designed this with Stetson a long time ago for myself, and it’s exactly what you need,” he said. It was light, shaded my eyes right down to the line of my sunglasses, and looked sharp in the mirror. Declaring myself a big fan, I turned to the vendor and designer himself to learn more.
Meyer, the business, has been selling hats in New Orleans since 1894. That’s impressive enough, but Sam Meyer, the gentleman selling me his design, had been selling hats in New Orleans since he came home from his service with 9th Air Force in World War II. He designed the Gulfport (named, obviously enough, after Gulfport, Miss) as a hat for sunny Southern days that works well with sunglasses. The turned-down front brim gives just enough lip to prevent any gap over Wayfarers, and the low crown kept it looking sleek. Even though the store was busy, he graciously spoke to me until I had to literally run, holding my new hat on my head, to my rehearsal.
It works. The sun stays out of your eyes and off your head and neck. The bright white straw mates perfectly with a white shirt under a seersucker suit. It makes a man look dressed for the day. It occurred to me that when a hat serves a very real purpose, or when it’s part of a uniform, it’s not at all an affectation; it’s mandatory. In New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, Gulfport, or a hundred other Southern cities, for an outdoor event after Memorial Day, seersucker is a uniform, and the straw hat is both a part of it and a functional necessity.
So take back your hat-wearing birthright. You’ll look good, you’ll look cool, and you’ll be in the kind of better mood that makes you more pleasant company for others.
Visit Meyer the Hatter at 120 St. Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA, or at their website: http://www.meyerthehatter.com