I know the question that's on everyone's lips about Jack Abramoff --
What is with those hats? Will he wind up as perhaps the only federal felon to grace the pages of GQ?
As the First Mlle. of Millinery in these parts, I was prevailed upon by my fellow blogger Marty Kaplan to undertake an answer.
First Abramoff shows up to plead guilty in D.C., wearing a trenchcoat -- was that a bulletproof vest under there, or was he just displeased to see anyone? -- and of course that topper, the black hat.
The next day, in court in Miami, he's wearing a dark suit -- and a tan baseball cap bearing the word "Cascata." The word is Italian for "waterfall," and it's American for "really expensive Vegas golf resort with typically wasteful water features in a desert." While I admire Abramoff's insouciance, I can't imagine that such a cap helps the case of a man who baited his lobbyist hook with trips to the world's ritziest golf courses.
As for the black hat, a New York Times columnist hazarded that it was a "pseudo-Hasidic homburg," and a National Review Online writer characterized it as "the black hat of a very Orthodox Jew." While Abramoff certainly made his faith a prominent part of his persona, this particular headgear looked too small, and the crown too low, and the whole effect just too fashion-conscious, to match those descriptions.
My informed judgment is that it's ... a fedora.
The fedora's first incarnation was as a woman's hat. Does that make Abramoff a cross-dresser? Not unless you put Bogart and King Edward VIII in that category. Okay, scratch the king -- we're not altogether sure about him. But "fedora" was the milliners' rage after Sarah Bernhardt wore it onstage, playing a Russian princess of that name in Victorien Sardou's drama "Fedora." Not long after, the fictional heroine who fell under Svengali's spell in a novel also wore a nifty little hat, which also became known by her name -- "Trilby." Both styles started out in ladies' hatboxes but ended up on gentlemen's heads and hat racks. [I found a man's black felt fedora being sold by that name, in the Los Angeles Times in July 1888, for $1.95.]
Thereafter it was a manly, even macho piece of headgear. In the 1950s, the Los Angeles Police Department fielded a team of sartorially distinguished detectives known as "the Hat Squad." After men stopped routinely wearing hats -- thanks in part to John F. Kennedy, who had a great head of hair to show off -- the snap-brim style still remained a kind of signature, the tough guy's visual trope. On the small screen or large, no film-noir shamus, no G-man, no Puzo Mafioso could saunter forth without one.
[On the website for the venerable Forward newspaper, Abramoff's chapeau is described as a Borsalino model -- Borsalino is the great Italian hat-maker -- that it costs $200 retail, and that he bought it at a Brooklyn haberdasher catering largely to Orthodox Jews. But a salesman was quoted as saying just what I thought: Jack's topper is too low in the crown and too narrow in the brim to be truly religious.]
Having begun life as a woman's hat, the fedora never entirely abandoned female heads. In the final airport scene in "Casablanca," Bergman wears some version or fedora, tilted fetchingly over one tear-filled eye. A fedora showed up on Joan Crawford's head in "Mildred Pierce," I believe, and on Joan Fontaine's in "Suspicion." Or was it "Rebecca"?
As for the baseball cap -- well, if it's a religious statement, it must mean that God is a golfer and, gentlemen, She deserves better tee-times.
At least Abramoff's not wearing a tinfoil hat -- yet. Maybe he'll save that for copping an insanity plea.