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Local lid lovers reflect on accessory’s role in modern fashion on National Hat Day

Kary Janousek, of West Fargo, pulls off a vintage look in this 1940s fuchsia tilt hat. Kary Janousek / Special to The Forum 1 / 5
Michael Howey, assistant restaurant manager at Mezzaluna, is well-known in downtown Fargo for constantly wearing a hat. Dave Wallis / The Forum 2 / 5
Kary Janousek models a 1960s wide-brimmed straw summer hat with roses. Kary Janousek / Special to The Forum3 / 5
Fargo resident Christopher Smith shows off one of the couple dozen hats in his collection. Christopher Smith / Special to The Forum 4 / 5
Christopher Smith with another hat in his collection. Christopher Smith / Special to The Forum 5 / 5

FARGO – Hang on to your hats – it is National Hat Day, after all.

It’s no major holiday, but Kary Janousek said it’s a fun reason to wear a vintage hat, something she’s been known to do for years.

The West Fargo resident picked up a hat habit from her mother, who wore a wide-brim hat tilted to the side when they went to church. Janousek sells vintage clothing and hats through her High Hat Couture online store, and said she’s complimented on her style when she goes out in a hat – even if she’s wearing a plain black dress.

“I have a lot of people that say, ‘Well, you look great in a hat, but I just don’t have a hat face,’ ” she said. “I think that’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard.”

Christopher Smith, too, is used to that kind of comment from strangers who love his 1920s and 1930s-inspired hats but think they couldn’t pull off a similar look. He thought the same thing until his then-girlfriend picked up one about 15 years ago.

“I thought I couldn’t wear hats, then I finally found a hat and it became another hat,” he said as he showed off some of the couple dozen he now has and wears on a regular basis.

For 24-year-old Mezzaluna assistant manager Michael Howey, hats have become a way of encouraging other men to avoid the temptation of being “lazy” with their appearance, even if that’s socially acceptable now.

“It was actually probably not until this century that it’s been uncommon for men not to wear hats,” he said. “I think it’s a nice piece to an outfit and I just think they’re interesting.”

Still in stores

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Straus Clothing would sell about 500 hats each year to its male customers. At one point, managers wouldn’t even seriously consider working with a clothing company if the sales representative wasn’t wearing a hat – they were too informal, according to Rick Stern.

But things have changed over the decades, and he said the store sells maybe 50 hats annually, he said.

“I don’t know why people don’t wear hats now,” Stern said. “It’s so doggone cold, but you still see so many people without hats on.”

He has a couple theories that might explain why hats aren’t as popular these days, at least for men.

First, Stern said some guys took the absence of a hat from President John F. Kennedy’s head on Inauguration Day as a cue they didn’t need to wear them anymore. And cars got a lower profile around the same time that meant men couldn’t get into a vehicle while wearing a hat.

Dapper dudes got a new option for picking up a hat with Broadway Shoe Co. in downtown Fargo, where sales associate Bria Dimke said they often see customers trying to find a new accessory to spruce up a man’s look.

“Women have a lot more options when it comes to hats, but for guys to have something that’s fashionable but also functional to keep them warm is a big draw,” she said. “It’s something that’s tough to find.”

The store sells a lot of knit beanies to female customers, she said, while men tend to go for bomber hats in the winter and newsboy-style hats in the summer.

Women’s clothing boutique Proper & Prim has noticed more customers coming in lately for hats, according to owner Teresa O’Day, and she said it’s a fun way of changing up a person’s look without a new wardrobe.

“It’s become a little more of a focal point,” she said. “People really notice it when you’re wearing a hat, and it can really make an outfit.”

Zandbroz Variety saw its hat inventory almost cleared out in the lead-up to Christmas, according to owner Greg Danz, with customers picking up bomber-style and knit hats.

But he said the store mostly carries women’s hats – men these days don’t seem to pay as much attention to their style, at least when it comes to accessories.

“Women are way better at hats and scarves than men are,” Danz said with a chuckle.

Violet Vintage in Fargo currently has about 50 hats in stock hailing from the early 1910s through the ’70s, and Pamela Kinslow, owner of the vintage boutique, said locals have plenty of reasons to incorporate hats into their style.

“I look at putting on a hat simply for warmth, especially through fall and winter,” she said. “As part of the fashion sense, I just feel like a hat gives a polished, pulled-together look.”

More than accessories

Regular diners at Mezzaluna might not recognize Howey without a hat – he wears one most days, he said, even if he’s just spending a day off at home.

Whether it’s a newsboy or a fedora, it’ll help hide a thinning hairline, he joked. But Howey said he mostly sees hats as part of a classic look for men, and said he’s become a self-described “activist” promoting hats in recent years.

“I think that guys get lazy sometimes with what they wear and they don’t take time to put themselves together,” he said. “I think women will work on their look and make sure that they have something that’s cohesive, whereas with a guy, I don’t think that jeans and a baseball cap and a T-shirt cuts it.”

There’s a fine line between caring about one’s appearance and being shallow about it, he said, but Howey said it’s worth a little effort – and for him, a hat is one way to do that.

For Janousek, a hat isn’t just an accessory or a way of staying warm on a cold day. Instead, she sees it as a way of breaking down barriers with strangers and pulling off a unique style with confidence.

“I think most people don’t wear them because they’re scared of looking silly, and I feel like why not look silly?” she said, laughing. “People are so scared of wearing them, but when you actually do make the effort to wear a hat, I get nothing but strangers coming up to me and saying, ‘Wow, you look so amazing.’ ”

Janousek said despite the common reaction she gets, she still believes there is a hat out there for everybody.

“Just give it a try I guess,” she said. “Like anything, you’re not going to know if it looks good on you unless you try it.”

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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