You Can Leave Your Hat On: Music + Hats Through The Ages

Alice Cooper – Brisbane Entertainment Centre – 18/02/2020
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Sharpe // IG : @ummagummamumma

Words by Shannon-Lee Sloane {The Colourful Writer}

There is no doubt about it – music and hats are connected. Both have been around for many moons and both have quite a fascinating history. But what is the connection? Why do they just go so well together? 

“Hats are like masks for a performer – you put it on and become who you need to be.” – Jordan Merrick 

For centuries musicians have not only created music, but have also created styles, fashions and entire vibes through the combined magic of their music and with the way they dress and express themselves. Rock, grunge, metal, blues, folk, classical, soul, roots, dance, trance, psych, country, punk and hip hop ‘till ‘ya don’t stop. Every single genre has its own style and vibe. And what’s the icing on the cake to an outfit or a style? You got it, a hat! 

So let’s delve into some famous musicians and bands who have worn/still wear a hat as part of their whole persona! 

Who are we going to kick off this long list with? 

Well it’s gotta’ be Slash, right!? Who doesn’t think of shredding and top hats with big fancy belt-like hat bands when they think of rockin’ hats!? Slash’s incredibly huge talent playing guitar is matched only by his gorgeously wild and long curly locks kept underneath his top hat while he shreds like only he can. It’s completely iconic and top hats were never cooler than when the legend that is Slash decided to don one as part of his rock star look. The top hat was traditionally made from black silk, though these days you can get it in a variety of fabrics. They feature a tall crown and a flat top. The top hat dates back to the 1700’s. Other than Slash, there have been many other famous musicians who adorn the top hat as part of their look, including Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks, Leon Russell, Tom Petty and many more. 

Mad Hatter: Your carriage, my lady.
Alice: A hat?
Mad Hatter: Of course. Anyone can go by horse or rail, but the absolute best way to travel is by hat. Have I made a rhyme?
— Mad Hatter, Alice, Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Leonard Cohen and Frank Sinatra are two famous musicians known for sporting a trilby. The trilby is a classic town hat, known for its small brim and was once viewed as a ‘rich mans’ hat. The shorter brim is traditionally angled down at the front and up at the back. The name ‘trilby’ came from a play based on a novel named ‘Trilby’ by George du Maurier first published in 1894.

‘A hat’s not a hat till it’s tilted’ – Style – ‘Robin and the 7 Hoods’

Yeee haaaa! Then of course, there’s the cowboy hat, in all its variations, styles and colours. From Lemmy to Lee Kernegan to Willy Nelson to Rob Zombie, to Kid Rock, to Cher, to Brittney Spears, to Madonna, to Men Without Hats and so many more. A high crowned, broad brimmed hat, the original western models came with an open crown but over the years many variations have become available, with different shaped crowns and various styles to the brims, with a combination of straw and fur or wool felt being popular. Brands like Stetson and Akubra are well known for their cowboy styles. 

There are your classic sports caps where Fred Durst (Limp Bizkit) in his red New York Yankees hat has become something iconic. Then there’s the backwards cap worn by many, including Axl Rose with a bandana underneath. NWA were almost always seen sporting caps and beanies. Janet Jackson also rocked a sports cap on the front of her ‘Rhythm Nation’ album and in the music video.

And while we are talking about music videos, there are some iconic vids that remain ingrained in our minds forevermore. Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal music video sees him sporting a white felt fedora, along with almost everyone else in the video wearing hats too. Michael’s style is so slick in this clip. Didn’t everyone want to go out and buy a fedora like his after watching this for the first time? I know I did.

Musicians such as Les Claypool (Primus), John Lennon (The Beatles) and Ian Dury (Ian Dury and the Blockheads) are known for wearing a variety of hats. Claypool can rock a bowler, an open crown homburg, campdraft and fedora like no one else. Lennon wore many styles but definitely rocked a fiddler cap and the baker boy style so well. Dury sported an array of hats like flat caps, trilbys and fedoras and the images of him in his bowler hat show how well it suited him and his punk rock and new wave vibes. 

While some musicians wore/wear a variety of hats, some are known for a specific hat or style. Such as AC/DC’s Brian Johnson who is most definitely known for his eight-piece style cap. He has said in interviews that he originally wore one as his brother had leant him his before he went on stage, telling him it would help keep the sweat out of his eyes. Funny how something that was originally worn for a practical use became a trademark for him and the band. Not to mention Angus Young’s school boy cap! 4 Non Blondes’ Linda Perry wore various hats but the one she is most known for and associated with is her leather top hat style hat with a wonky brim and added glasses attached for a Tank Girl vibe. Iconic!   

“Wide brimmed and narrow, some tall, some not, some fancy, some colorful, some plaid, some plain. She doted on changing hats at every opportunity. When she met the Prince, she was wearing one hat, when he asked her for a stroll, she excused herself, shortly to return wearing another, equally flattering.”
― William Goldman, The Princess Bride

There are musicians and artists like David Bowie, Madonna, Brittney Spears, Prince, Beck, Lady Gaga and others who constantly recreate/d themselves in their looks/vibes and appearance. So with that, their hat style would change too. Bowie could rock anything from a fedora to a boater to a flat cap to a fiddler. Lady Gaga’s hats and head attire is pure art and an extension of her eccentricity. Jamiroqui is another creative spirit associated with his crazy big furry hats and American Indian style headdress both on stage and in his music videos. While we are talking creative and unique, you can’t go past the bright red flower pot style hats that Devo made famous. The correct term for the hats is ‘energy dome’ and they were first worn by Devo in 1980 when they released their third studio album, ‘Freedom Of Choice’. 

“And everyone, men and women, seemed inordinately fond of hats.”
― Stephen Lawhead

Then there are musicians and bands who have not only donned a hat as part of their music character vibe, they’ve even gone as far as to write a song about them! There are many songs about hats, but the first one that always comes to mind for me, and one I sing to myself whenever I am wearing my reddish pink beret, is Raspberry Beret by Prince. You can check out a playlist I made on Spotify full of songs about hats if you’re keen, right HERE.

“This is a new hat, would you like to wear it?
What is the point of sunshine unless you share it?
I’ve got a hat full of sunshine
A pocket full of happiness”

– Hat Full Of Sunshine – Professor Elemental

Just had to end my article with this clip from the gorgeous Brody Dalle in Spinnerette rocking the shit outta’ her hat while singing at you like only she can. Hot as hell! In this clip the hat really perfected the whole vibe of the song and video. Perfection.

With special thanks to Jordan for the opening quote and for sharing my love and appreciation of hats and music and to my amazing hat boss and QUEEN of all things hats, Tess.

Want your own rock star style? For great hats in Brisbane and beyond (you can order online!) check out Brisbane Hatters. Stocking most of the hats mentioned in this article!

Brisbane Hatters:

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