Here at CrimeReads, we love discussing sartorial decisions in crime movies. Crime film might be the most fashionable film category, on the whole, when you think about it—from femmes fatales to English gentlemen detectives, there are countless distinctive style choices and memorable looks throughout its varied subgenres. Many of these ensembles are also fall-friendly (Trench coats! Trench coats! Trench coats!) and include fabulous hats. And that is what I want to discuss with you today.
I like hats. I like hats a lot. I don’t wear them enough, but that’s beside the point. Crime film is full of excellent hats, and I have selected what are, to my mind, the ten absolute best. Then again, all of film history is full of excellent hats, but this is a crime website, so I must show restraint. I’ll say up front that there is no Indiana Jones stetson, and no Freddy Krueger fedora, and no Annie Hall wide-brimmed bowler, and no Willy Wonka orange velvet top hat, and no scarf-heavy Holly Golightly chapeau du matin.
And, again, I’m trying to keep to most iconic hats. For the Corleone-family diehards, I’ll just say right now that the gray homburg hat Al Pacino wears in The Godfather isn’t quite indelible enough, I’m sorry. Also, I’ll just say up here, I wish The Tailor of Panama had more panama hats in it.
This is a little list, a fun exercise—not like one of those gigantic, toppling rankings I usually put together for this site. Is this list even ranked? I’m not sure, honestly. If it is, it’s very loose. But these ten entries are real bona-fides; I’m not just picking characters’ names out of a hat.
Oh, and no masks, helmets, crowns, or anything funny like that. We’re being straightforward.
All right! Hats off to everyone! Let’s begin.
Movie: The Sting
Character: Henry Gondorff
Paul Newman’s master con artist Henry Gondorff seems to like his fedoras. He wears a brown one while he’s plotting with other members of the con, and brings a black-banded gray fedora along with him, once the plot is underway. That hat, he wears with a matching three-piece suit, a tuxedo (while he is getting ready), and, most notably, with a shirt and loosened tie while he’s practicing shuffling cards. Nobody wears a hat like Newman, ya folla?
Movie: Mildred Pierce
Character: Mildred Pierce
Hat: Fur cap
Mildred Pierce is brimming with hats. Toy top hats, feather-trimmed fascinators, whatever this thing is. In the film, hats represent her upward social mobility: from the tattered, floppy felt hat she wears as a single mom/waitress/baker, to the resplendent fur cap she sports as a successful restaurant tycoon, later on. (Not to mention her terrible daughter Veda’s hat collection, but look, I don’t have time.) This fur cap is the one I have chosen for this list (even despite my complete disdain for fur), because it is the most iconic; she wears it in the opening scene and the ending scene.
Movie: To Catch a Thief
Character: Frances Stevens
Hat: White sun hat
In Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Grace Kelly plays Frances Stevens, a real pistol with a penchant for adventure, a form-fitting wardrobe, and a sun hat so big it it might as well be an eclipse.
Jean Reno plays
It feels dishonest to call Oddjob’s hat a “bowler” since it is also a precision killing machine, a Chakram of sorts. Augmented with blades and throwables, it is more of a head-remover than a head-covering. Oddjob, the henchman/valet/chauffeur/caddy (hence his name) of Auric Goldfinger, was played by former Olympic wrestler Harold Sakata, and his bowler-clad visage remains one of the most memorable of all the Bond movie bad guys.
Movie: Bonnie and Clyde
Character: Bonnie Parker
There are a lot of hats in Bonnie and Clyde, worn by both Bonnie and Clyde. In fact, there are so many hats in the movie that you wonder if they didn’t stick up a haberdashery in between a few of the banks. But the most memorable hat style in the movie is (for me, anyway) the beret. Bonnie wears several of them. Theadora Van Runkle’s Oscar-winning costume design makes Bonnie into an elegant, businesslike, and yet playful character, and her soft little hats make her look even more-put together. And cool.
Movie: Murder on the Orient Express
Character: Hercule Poirot
This entry is where things get dicey. Lots of Poirot adaptations feature the good detective in a pert, round bowler or a neat straw hat (in warmer climates), but the hat he seems to be associated with the most is the Homberg, a style which resembles the bowler but has a small divot in the top. David Suchet’s portrayal of the detective in the Poirot series from 1989–2013, which prominently featured such a hat, contributed towards the association of the character with the style. HOWEVER, this is a list of the 10 best hats in crime movies, not TV shows. If I include this TV show, I’m going to have to include Heisenberg’s black porkpie hat from Breaking Bad, and J.R.’s cowboy hat from Dallas and the peaky blinders from Peaky Blinders and definitely Longmire’s hat and then it’s going to be a whole thing! This is supposed to be a short list! So, I’m including on this list the bowler hat worn by Albert Finney, in Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film version of Murder on the Orient Express. Maybe less iconic than the Suchet hat, but what can you do? Yes, I’m cheating. Shhh… keep that under your hat, will you?
Movie: The French Connection
Character: Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle
Gene Hackman’s mug underneath the brim of his short, stout porkpie hat is, to my mind, the most indelible of all the elements of The French Connection. You see that hat coming towards you, and you know Popeye’s here.
Movie: The Big Sleep
Character: Philip Marlowe
I don’t mean to be old hat with this entry, but face it: Mr. Film Noir himself, Humphrey Bogart’s Philip Marlowe, wouldn’t be the king of the genre without a black-banded fedora dipping a shadow across his face.
Movie: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Character: Sherlock Holmes
Yes, the deerstalker hat worn by Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes is number one on this list! Although technically Arthur Conan Doyle never specifically mentioned Holmes wearing a deerstalker (though he once described Holmes as wearing a cap with ear-flaps), Sidney Paget, the original illustrator of the Holmes stories, drew Holmes wearing such a cap in an illustration in The Strand, accompanying “The Boscombe Valley Mystery.” But Rathbone’s Holmes really brought the style into association with the character. Well done, old chap(eau).