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Retro delights: Hats

Cheap trilbies may be ubiquitous in the needle-tracked world of Pete Doherty and Blake Fielder Civil but as Michael Bywater explains, the gentleman’s hat can be an altogether more eloquent affair

"Hats are back," they keep saying. For some of us, they never went away. Look. Here. Two Stetson Stratoliners, redolent of air travel when it was glamorous. A big Herbert Johnson "Poet", not as worn by Indiana Jones because I got mine first. A dove-grey velours. A Lock featherweight crushable, crushed. A couple of Akubras. Two dozen others, all telling a story. This one had a snake in, in the Outback. That one has tyre-tracks: Terry Jones did that. And this one: Paris, a downpour, a beautiful woman.

Forget the cheap trilbies pathetically jaunting on the tiny scabbed heads of the needle-track set, the Blake Fielder-Civils, the other berk who was humping Kate Moss. They aren't hats; like their wearers, they are cheap jokes. Addled youths, perpetually pubescent, should stick to the inane 'ball cap. ("Excuse me, your hat's on sideways.") Style quotient? Negative.

But those of us who wear real hats don't want style, either. We want to merge in. We just want to merge in in a world where a man wears a hat.

Hats were eloquent. See a friend across the road? Lift your hat and hold it in front of you, signifying "Hang on. Want a chat." Now you'd have to text him.

Here's a movie. Int. Elevator – Day. A man with his wife, in silence. Hat on. Doors open. Pretty woman gets in. Man raises hat. All you need to know about that marriage.

Baden-Powell knew, by looking at a chap's hat, whether he was a cad, a dullard or a welsher.

And when things got sticky ("Oh Gerald, how could you?"), you could say "Fine. I'll get my hat." Now all we can do is flounce out. We can't even sidle back – "Forgot my hat" – to make amends.

There's a hat cult now. On The Fedora Lounge website, fiends, boned up on minutiae of fur, ribbon, brim and welt, yearn companionably for happier times when all men knew everything about hats. Except they never did. They just wore them. It was what you did. Retro can never be authentic.

And those of us who tart around in our fedoras are pretending, too, to be men in hats, when really we're men in "Hats". We'd have been the first refuseniks when JFK showed the world you didn't need a hat to get ahead.

Coming back? I'll eat my hat.