The Pork Pie Hat or ‘Porkpie’, is a squat, round hat often made of a felt and sometimes raffia, straw or ‘Toyo’ which is paper. It is an ideal substitute to the Trilby or a Fedora, giving a lower profile with a flatter, broader profile from the front. The crown is short and has an indentation all the way around, instead of the pinch and split crown (‘Gutter Crown’) typically seen on fedoras and Homburgs. The Pork Pie hat originates from the mid 19th century, and was a type of woman’s hat. It’s name comes, quite literally, from the similarity to a Melton Mowbray, Pork Pie!
The term is also used in reference to the brimless hats worn by sailors in the Roayl Navy. This hat is typically round, flat on top and wider at the crown. This type of hat is also known as a “square rig” and lends itself to the small, white chefs hats worn today and also the Smoking Cap.
The Modern Pork Pie is a felt hat, with a round 2-inch brim and oval flat topped crown, with a groove running round the top.
There are many variations now, with a soft felt V-Pork Pie becoming popular. The Stingy-Brim Pork Pie is a staple around London amongst the Brit Rock followers. There is even a Trilby-Peaked Pork Pie, which adds a pinch at the front to an otherwise classic Pork Pie shape.
The pork pie hat was a staple of the British “Man about town” style for many years. Pork pie hats are often associated with Jazz, Blues and Ska musicians and fans, Charles Mingus wrote a song for jazz Saxophone, called “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”.
In Jamaica, the hat was popularized by the 1960’s Rude Boy subculture, which traveled to England and influenced the Mod and Skin-Heads (although Jamaican and British pork pie hats are more similar to a very short-brimmed trilby rather than the US style).
Robert Oppenheimer, the Physicist, frequently wore a pork pie hat. Singer Dean Martin was known to be partial to pork pie hats, and they were a trademark of the silent film comedian, Buster Keaton, who handmade his own. One of the most stylish versions was worn by Frank Sinatra, made with a very wide ribbon and a trilby, snap-brim.
The pork pie hat had a resurgence in popularity after Gena Hackman’s character, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle wore one in The French Connection.