It is more than 70 years since the British Hat Council first coined the phrase: "If you want to get ahead, get a hat". But while the sight of men sporting trilbies and homburgs was the norm back in the 1930s, headgear was to fall dramatically out of fashion - until now.
Figures published yesterday show that over the past five years sales of male headgear have increased by more than 80 per cent, driven by the sight of fashionable men such as David Beckham with hats perched on their heads, and more prosaic concerns about skin cancer.
Favoured hats are nothing like as sophisticated as their predecessors, with baseball caps and beanies scoring high. According to the report, sales of men's hats in Britain are expected to top £51m by the end of the year.
"Men's hats do seem to be coming back into fashion," said Nigel Denford, editor of Hat Magazine, yesterday. "We are seeing more interest in the trilby-style hat or flat caps - which are worn at a rather jaunty angle - for men. However, the American trucker-style caps seem to be the most popular.
"Whenever a celebrity like Beckham or a pop group starts wearing hats we see a surge but the sustained increase over the last few years would suggest it's more than a passing phase."
The Mintel survey of almost 1,000 men found 23 per cent had bought a baseball cap in the past 12 months and 15 per cent had purchased a woolly or fleece hat. Katy Mclaughlin, a senior retail analyst at Mintel, said it was fashionable hats rather than traditional versions such as the trilby which were leading the way. "Led by baseball caps and sports hats, this segment has also benefited from celebrity association such as the affinity of urban hip-hop stars for their Kangol hats and David Beckham's famous beanie hat," she said.
Another reason suggested for the return of hats as fashion accessories among the young is that it helps to differentiate the new generation from the older one. The children of the 1960s did not want to be their parents and they rejected hats as a symbol of their fathers' conformism. But today's young men see wearing a hat as something different even if it is a baseball cap worn back-to-front. Just as at the turn of the 20th century when hats were an essential part of a man's wardrobe, and its style was a symbol of social standing, headwear is again a public statement, with many major fashion labels pushing their own line of hats to complement their brand of clothing and accessories.
While the uptake of hats among men is on the increase, Mintel also found that tie sales are on the way down. The same survey, which found that men account for almost 60 per cent of the £500m accessories market in the Britain, discovered that only 18 per cent of young men had bought a tie in the past year - a fact the report puts down to a trend towards dressing casually in the workplace.
Mintel claims the tie market has remained static, with sales of about £154m a year, because men are opting for more expensive designer versions when they do make a purchase. Ms Mclaughlin said: "While the general decline in tie-wearing has hit the market hard, retailers have encouraged men to trade up to more expensive silk or close-weave ties, increasing the average price.
"Although fashion pundits predict a return to slightly smarter tailored looks incorporating ties, the general feeling is that ties are unlikely to recapture the status they once held in male wardrobes."