I have always been a fan of hats. Proper hats mind you, not these overly branded trucker caps that people plonk on their heads these days, but the more refined and stylish type of headgear that gentlemen used to wear. Yet despite being a fan, I have never really spent much time wearing them.
A succession of cheap, poorly-made fedoras have made their way onto my noggin, but for various reasons, have never stood the test of time. And so, as I approach my fortieth year on this planet, I have decided that it is time to do this properly… and by properly, I mean it is time to wear the only hat that any man would ever want to wear, the hat that stands as a symbol for all movie millinery… the Raider’s Hat.
Many stories are told about the origin of this icon and there are many ‘establishments’ that sell versions of, but it all began on a rather uneventful afternoon in 1980 when two American gentlemen walked into London milliners, Herbert Johnson, and asked about a hat for their forthcoming adventure film. Herbert Johnsons no longer exists, but one of the talented hat makers that worked at that shop now continues his craft at the historic Bates Hats shop on Jermyn Street and it is their version of the Raider’s Hat that had attracted my attention.
Now quality comes at a price, and that price is more than my financials will allow. Many times before social has proved to me that if you truly believe in something you can make it happen. So I approached the good people at Bates with a proposal… a social experiment… a ‘leap of faith’. In exchange for said hat, I would let the world know what it was like for a modern gentleman to wear a traditional hat. I would tweet, Facebook and blog my experiences, both good and bad, and hopefully convince as many people as possible that now was the time for this millinery renaissance.
As luck would have it, Bates was already taking their first steps into the social world and well aware of the need for participation in this virtual space. Their unusual mascot, Binks the Cat, was prowling his way around Twitter and their Facebook page was taking shape. So when the response came, it was with boyish excitement that I accepted the invitation to meet at their Jermyn Street store.
As I entered the store I was met by James, Phil and Jean-Luc, who regaled me with stories of his days at Herbert Johnsons working alongside the great Richard Swale, creator of the alpha, the holy grail, the original Raider’s Hat. He spoke of the many ‘pale’ imitations that litter the various memorabilia shops and their lack of quality.
I was overjoyed to hear James talk of the importance of the community within social and not its size. It was gratifying to see someone who had so quickly grasped the need for a voice and not simply a large following. James understood that social was an important step for Bates and, despite its perceived stuffiness, was so perfectly placed to embrace social with its rich history and colourful characters.
Eventually we got round to the reason that I had come here… the Hat. Phil asked me if I knew my head size. I had a vague recollection of it being around 7 and a half inches. Phil took one glance and said “7 and one eighth”, he was right. Phil brought down a stack of Indis’ and lifted one out. All hats begin the same shape, they have no pinch at the front and the top is unbashed. But after Phil gave the hat a thump on the top and a pinch at the front there sat the unmistakable icon that had adorned Doctor Jones’ head through his many adventures.
I placed it upon my head, it fit perfectly. I glanced into the mirror. This was the fulfilment of a dream that had begun over 30 years ago. It looked good.
I bid farewell to James and Phil and stepped out into the warm London air. Even though the original shop where Steven and Harrison found what would become the Raider’s hat was no longer here, I was close enough. This is where it had all begun. As I turned the corner into St. James Street the sun caught my profile and there… on the pavement… the shadow.
You can follow my day to day adventures with ‘Indi’ at twitter.com/stuartwitts or via the hashtag #lovemyhat, and if you feel inspired to purchase your very own quality headpiece, visit bates-hats.com and don’t forget to tell them Indiana sent you 😉