With men’s headwear making a fashion comeback, look to the Italian capital for sartorial expertise. The stylish gentlemen of Rome have never left their hats behind, and as a result the city’s milliners are among the best in the world. Global Blue visits the city’s oldest and best creators of fedoras, trilbies and more
If you spy an overtly impressive hat around Rome, the chances are that Barbiconi made it. Since the early 1800s, this famous specialist has been furnishing the heads of the most important clergy in the Vatican. You might recognise most distinct styles of the family business. The biretta is a striking, cornered silk hat, complete with pom-pom; the saturno, a low-crowned, broad-brimmed style in black straw, perfect for the summer; and the mitre, a tall, single peaked, ornately embroidered number.
Italian men have remained loyal to their hat makers over the decades and in turn these businesses have thrived
Of course, the hats by Barbiconi are probably not for you. But the business is far from being the only specialist in Rome. For those of less religious or prestigious rank, the city has more than its fair share of hat makers, both internationally recognised and also more local.
Among the latter are the likes of Antica Manifattura Cappelli on Via degli Scipioni, Cappelleria Mirarchi in the market at Via Sannio, and Cappelleria Lombardi on Via Merulana. At these three purveyors you can find hats to compete with those of the clergy in terms of style and quality. They offer everything from leather flying caps to stetsons with heart-shaped brims.
There was a time when almost all men wore hats. To do so was considered good manners, and not to do so was to risk social exclusion. There are any number of theories as to why the wearing of hats fell from favour across the world, a decline typically associated with the 1960s: changes in fashion, the rise of youth culture, increased travel by car, the uptake of central heating, even American president John F Kennedy. Kennedy hated wearing hats, seeing them as symbolic of his father’s generation; despite protestations from the American hat industry he refused to wear one. The new (and stylish) ideal that he and his wife Jacqueline embodied perhaps helped signal an end to headwear.
But not so in Italy. Here men continued to wear hats. Perhaps the hot summers ensured that the wearing of a cool, shady hat remained a practical choice. Perhaps a large Catholic population, for whom dressing well for the Sunday sermon was expected, maintained the demand for beautiful headwear.
Whatever the reasons, Italian men have remained loyal to their hat makers over the decades and in turn these businesses have thrived. Many of them are family enterprises in which skills have been passed down through the generations and in which the traditional secrets of the craft remain preserved, embraced for even the most modern of designs.
Antica Cappelleria Troncarelli, for example, has been in family hands for five generations and this year is enjoying its 160th anniversary. The charming boutique on Via della Cuccagna offers an amazing variety of hats, from the family’s own creations to choice pieces by leading brands including London’s famous Lock & Co Hatters. There is a design here for every taste and occasion, whether you’re looking for a classic hat to protect you from the elements or a bold choice to make a style statement. The boutique is also home to a studio where skilled craftsmen both make and repair headwear.
Borsalino is also 160 this year. This hat-making enterprise was passed from the founding brothers Alessandro and Lazzaro Borsalino to son and then to nephew. Yet perhaps it is more famous names than its own that have made Borsalino the best-known of the city’s hatters. Its patented version of a felt fedora is the eponymous Borsalino, which was worn by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and by Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, and which even had a cult French new wave detective film named after it. Today, the creation of a Borsalino hat remains a precise and painstaking process and takes an average of seven weeks to complete.
With the fashion world beginning once again to enjoy hats as flamboyant finishing touches to men’s attire, the Italian capital holds special appeal – after all, in Rome a hat has always been part of the well-dressed man’s wardrobe.