Lifestyle & Belief

In Paris, hats are back on top

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PARIS, France — It’s funny how sometimes we think we are being original, but we’re really not. This often happens with fasion, where suddenly everyone is wearing the same thing at the same time.

Here is a classic example:

I had to buy an accessory for a party, something fun or quirky.

And as I wasn’t willing to burn a lot of cash, I took a walk in my trendy, bourgeois-bohemian neighborhood, Republique, to see if something caught my eye. I came across a traditional hat shop ("Magic Urban," 25 Blvd Saint-Martin, Paris, 75003.)

Rather shy at first, I looked at the chapeaux, timidly took a gray one with gray stripes, and put in on, smirking out of embarrassment.

“Forget it,” I thought, “I’m not going to wear a hat, it’s so old-fashioned!”

But as I was about to leave without the hat, the shopkeeper convinced me to try another.

The second one fit perfectly, and I must confess, actually looked cool. There was something charming and deliciously old school about wearing the kind of hat that my grandfather’s generation held as a fashion staple.

Mocher Cherguim, the shopkeeper, was clearly disappointed when I told him that the hat would just be a gimmick for a party.

"You know," he said enthusiastically, "you can still wear it after the party!"

"Maybe," I said, "why not, after all."

"Welcome to the club then!" said the shopkeeper with a wink.

And that’s how it began.

When I left the shop, I was at first self-conscious about wearing a fedora.

But I quickly realized that I was anything but original.

As soon as I put that hat on my head, I saw them everywhere. In trendy shop windows, on little stands. Within a 10-minute walk, I came across a dozen youngsters, all wearing old-fashioned hats — and they couldn’t possibly all be going to a fancy dress party.

Take young comedian Julie Andre. She said she’s been wearing a fedora for about a month.

“Many of my friends wear hats,” she said, “it’s new, it’s fashionable. It’s something from another generation, but we’re going back to hats, probably because we realize that it’s actually cute.”

Budding writer Antoine Mouton also wears one, and interestingly enough, he said he had been wearing it for a month, too.

“When I bought it,” he said, “I was too ashamed to wear it.”

Then, as Mouton started trying to quit stop smoking, he thought that wearing a hat would spice up his life.

“When I stopped smoking,” said Mouton, “I thought the hat would help me, that I could always say to myself: ‘I may not have any cigarettes, but I have a hat!'”

When I was growing up in Paris, no one under 50 wore a traditional hat. But in my neck of the woods at the moment, wearing a hat is like riding a creaky bicycle from the 1970's — it comes with the territory.

And the older generations welcome the trend.

Guy Ortega, a retired school teacher, has been wearing a flat cap for 30 years.

“It’s true, young people wear old-fashioned hats,” he said. “It’s become trendy, that’s great, I think it’s very nice.”

I asked Ortega why he has been wearing a hat for so long. In response, he took it off and unveiled a lovely white-crowned bald head, and said with a smile: “Do you understand why I wear a hat now?”

My own 80-year-old grandmother wore hats all her youth, then stopped when it went out of fashion. “When I was young I had so many hats and I would never go outside without a hat!” she said.

You should have seen her smile when she saw me wearing a hat. All at once, she felt like the young people acknowledged that her generation got a few things right, and one of them was the lovely chapeaux.

At the Beret Museum in southwest France, an institution that tells 2,000 years of hat history, the trend has been welcomed with great joy.

“Young people are going back to basics,” said the Beret Museum's Nadege Julio, “and it’s not just for hats, for clothes in general, natural fabrics have become fashionable again.”

Julio said that originally the beret was worn by shepherds in the Basque region of southwest France, to protect them from the rain and wind.

Tradition also has it that between the ages of 8 and 12, boys were given a beret to wear to school. It was a ritual, a sign that they were becoming adults.

Then, during World War II, berets became an even stronger symbol of French identity when members of the Resistance against the Nazis wore it.

And with the 1960s sex revolution, berets became fancy among women, who wore them in many colors.

To this day, on some school playgrounds, kids still play with berets — they throw them and use them for relay races.

So, traditional hats might the cool thing to wear in Paris, but the good news hasn’t yet reached the duck farms of Aussats, a village so small that it doesn’t register on a GPS.

Foie gras farmer Jerome Berna, 30, has been wearing a beret every day for 10 years, “to work and to go out on weekends.”

But asked what he thought about the trend, he said: “I’m not sure that berets are fashionable, because when I go to Paris and walk around, I feel out of fashion. Here in the Gascogne region, it’s when you don’t wear a beret that you’re out of fashion.”

But something tells me the next time Berna visits Paris, with his round face and perfect Basque beret, without even trying he might just be the coolest traditionalist in the capital.