How to Wear a Hat – Noir Edition



One thing that drives me crazy about the current crop of period films is that men usually don’t know how to wear hats.

“The Black Dahlia” (with costume design by Jenny Beavan) is a particularly excruciating lesson in unfortunate hat wear. I mean look at these guys! Stick a hat  — any hat — on your head and voila! The 1940s.

There is an art to pairing the right hat to the right actor – and there’s an entire language of hats in the way they were worn in films in the 1940s.

Josh Hartnett

OK, Mr. Hartnett, stick this thing on your head.


And Mr. Eckhart, here’s your retro lid. (And I’m not too crazy about that tie or that collar either, but I’ll let it go for now).

OK, I think I’ve made my point. Here are some lessons from the masters on how to wear a hat in a film noir:

Kiss of Death, Victor Mature

Here’s lesson No. 1 from Victor Mature in the 1947 film “Kiss of Death” (wardrobe director Charles Le Maire).   The hat fits the shape of his face and it’s at an angle. He looks terrific (the coat helps). And he’s playing an ex-convict so he needs to convey the idea that he’s a fast operator.


Here’s lesson No. 2 from Alan Ladd in the 1942 film “This Gun for Hire” with a good roughed-up collar on his coat.

And when Ladd wants to get tough, he wears his hat like this.

This Gun for Hire
Mature and Ladd are playing men who are more or less on the wrong side of the law. Lesson No. 3, how a detective wears a hat, is from Robert Preston, also in “This Gun for Hire.”

Maltese Falcon
Lesson No. 4, the 1941 film “The Maltese Falcon,” is a study in contrasts: Humphrey Bogart is the sharp-dressed Sam Spade and Ward Bond is a rumpled police detective.

"Maltese Falcon"

Lesson No. 5: Hats as a symbol of authority in “The Maltese Falcon,” as worn by detectives played by Barton MacLane and Ward Bond.

And Lesson No. 6: In the 1946 film “The Big Sleep” (wardrobe director Leah Rhodes), Humphrey Bogart demonstrates the right and wrong way to wear a hat.


Bogart as tough guy Philip Marlowe….

"Big Sleep"

… and with a flip of the brim (plus sunglasses) he becomes a rather effeminate book collector.

Got that, guys?

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1942, 1947, Black Dahlia, Fashion, Film, Hollywood and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to How to Wear a Hat – Noir Edition

  1. Rob L. Wagner says:

    I agree, Larry. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in period films. It doesn’t take much for an actor to watch a couple of old films to get the idea how to wear a hat. Do you have any examples of contemporary actors who got it right?


  2. Tisha Parti says:

    Agreed, always felt that they wear hats in movies without much thought to arrangement. ( I thought I was the only one who fixated on this sort of thing.) I have the same pet peeve with shoes for women in period pieces. Get the shoes correct for the time period and the outfit (I’m talkin’ to you “Grease”). Just because they wore a type of shoe in a certain era, it does not mean that that shoe went with every outfit. Shoe heel types go with different styles of dress. Hats aren’t just plopped on heads or with just any suit. And don’t get me started with Tom Bosley’s 70’s glasses on “Happy Days”…;)


  3. Gregory Moore says:

    Nailed it, Larry…..that drives me absolutely nuts. You’re right that nearly ALL the time in contemporary films, when trying to look “retro” (or worse, trying to look “noir”), they slap the generic fedora on a 25-year old and think they’ve instantly got their look going. Ever-so-slightly in their defense, unless the costume designer is providing actual vintage hats of the 1920’s-50’s era, there are damned few current men’s hatmakers that make hats that are really true to the look of the era (and that includes Borsalino, whose designs have changed significantly since the ‘golden era’). But often, it’s more a matter of conviction and just plain ol’ “style” (or lack thereof) that separates the good from the bad when it comes to wearing classic fedoras/homburgs properly. A mere cock to the right is a good starting point. The dead giveaway of the amateur (as you pointed out) is when they plop the hat on the actor’s head so that it’s dead-centered…looking more like a prop than an article of clothing.


  4. Even cars were designed, inside and out, for men with hats. No headroom left for hats. Running boards call for a man in a hat to be perched on one, precariously. We need taller cars with running boards. We also need men (never women) with pencil-thin mustaches. They look good in hats.

    Hattie McDaniel


    • Bobbie says:

      I LOVE your comments! Too true! I used to get a ride on the running board when my father came home from work. A distance of about 10 feet, but so much fun!


  5. Marc Chevalier says:

    The ONE recent (well, 1984) movie that got hat-wearing right: Francis Coppola’s “The Cotton Club”, which takes place between 1928 and 1931.


  6. Marc Chevalier says:

    Links to images from “The Cotton Club” (1984):


  7. Matt Deckard says:

    Ack… Please don’t reference The Black Dahlia, it was bad enough on the details with all the other clothes alone, don’t emphasize the bad hats and how they were badly worn.


  8. BunKaryudo says:

    It’s funny, I was looking up to find out what kind of hat Humphrey Bogart wore in the Maltese Falcon (a Fedora, right?) because I was leaving a comment on somebody else’s blog, and suddenly here I am on a completely different blog still talking about Humphrey Bogart’s hat.

    I’m too young (48) to have ever worn a real hat (not a stupid baseball cap), which I regret very much. I hope they’ll come back into fashion some day, but I’m not banking on it. Incidentally, once you pointed out the difference, even I could see that the actors in the bottom photographs looked much cooler than those in the top ones.


  9. Great post that I’ve come upon only five years later … I loved “Mad Men” but it always killed me how poorly they wore hats on that show. Roger Sterling always should have had a cocky angle going but his black fedora usually was level and pulled down too far. They never looked right on Draper/Jon Hamm either.


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