The home of hats since 1676, Lock & Co. is not only the oldest hat shop in London, it’s the oldest hat shop in the world, and impressively, it’s still a family-owned business.
With all this know-how, it’s no surprise then, that this brand has the royal seal of approval in the form of Royal Warrant of Appointments, and there’s a long list of distinguished wearers too, from Admiral Lord Nelson (he wore the bicorne into the Battle of Trafalgar), Sir Winston Churchill (the Cambridge and Homburg hats were his trademarks), Oscar Wilde, and Beau Brummell, as well as Charlie Chaplin.
Where form meets function, a Lock & Co. piece signifies quality of fabrics (including British tweed and leather), craftsmanship, service, and innovative design, and these founding pillars of excellence were established by founder, James Lock. Championed ever since, these principles are being upheld today by the 7th generation of the family, who still run the company from its shop at No. 6, St. James’s Street in London.
Today, Lock & Co. offer three collections: women’s ready-to-wear that focuses on timeless silhouettes, cue Fedoras, Trilbies, and Berets; Lock Couture for exception, handmade pieces in London; and for men, core classics that consist of Bowlers, Panamas and Baker Boys, ideal if you want to channel your inner Peaky Blinder.
Unsure to which hat to choose? Fear not, as Ben Dalrymple, Managing Director of Lock & Co Hatters is here to help with his top tips.
Tip 1: Size does matter
Take the time to measure your head carefully, using a soft tape measure, preferably in centimetres for accuracy. The measurement should be taken around the widest part of the back of the head, and then across the forehead, approximately 2cm above the eyebrows. You can see a demonstration on the Lock & Co. website here. Unlike most clothing, hats do not stretch – if anything they conform down over time, so it is really important that it is comfortable and not too tight from the very first wear. Too tight, and the hat will leave a mark on your head and the peak, crown or brim will be misshapen. The hat or cap should never be too loose as to sit on your ears, however. Just right, and a hat will feel like you have always worn it, and it will be a staple and loyal part of your wardrobe for many years to come.
Tip 2: The skill is in the shaping
For soft hats and caps, once the sizing is right, the hat should feel well-fitted and comfortable, and generally they are sewn or blocked into an oval shape. However, people’s head-shapes vary enormously too. Somebody with a rounder head shape may find a standard, out-of-the-box hat tighter at the sides, and somebody with a longer-oval may find it too snug at the front and back. This is especially true of high quality, blocked hats with a leather sweatband such as a fine fedora, but hard hats such as the Bowler (or Coke, pronounced “Cook”, as it is known at Lock & Co.) or for Top Hats it is essential that the head-shape itself is recorded. This is because there is little or no “give” in these hats, so they are individually hand-shaped, bespoke for each client. Lock & Co. still use a Conformateur – a precise head-shape measuring instrument made in Paris in the 1850s, and this process should never be overlooked when buying one of these iconic hats. You can see a video of our conforming process here.
Tip 3: Proportion, purpose and preference
A general rule of hatting is to identify a hat or cap that is in proportion to the wearer, as you would a pair of glasses based on the shape of one’s face. Height, breadth of shoulders, face shape and even hairstyle can influence the choice of hat in proportion to those characteristics. It is, perhaps, a little too simplistic to say that a shorter, slighter person would suit a narrower brim trilby and a taller, built-for-rugby gentleman would look fine in a wide-brimmed fedora – but that would certainly be a good start when considering which hat to buy. Crown height is important as well. The same is true for caps, too; a narrower flat cap or fuller Bakerboy cap could be chosen by face-shape, but also when worn with a shirt, or an overcoat and scarf, the same cap will look differently proportioned. It certainly helps to consider when the hat or cap would most be worn, and with what attire, and if you can, wear a similar outfit when trying it on. Most of all, these are only guidelines and the important thing is that you enjoy wearing it; if you love the hat, then that’s the one for you. Some of the most iconic fashion photography in the world is of people in hats, looking incredible. They can be as much of a statement as they are fit for purpose, and with so much choice it is easy to find something subtly stylish, perfectly practical or even fabulously flamboyant!
Tip 4: Crowns and customisation
One thing that is often overlooked is the shape and height of the crown of a hat. Customarily, a good hatmaker will create a hat that is in balance with all of its elements, so the crown height will complement the brim width (see Tip 3). Traditionally, most hats are made with a classic pinch (the two symmetrical oval “dents” at the front of the crown) and a crease along the length at the top. Some popular alternatives to this are; teardrop crowns, which are blocked slightly squarer in a bead shape, being narrower at the front and wider at the back, a pork-pie crown, which has a lower, squarer crown with a blocked, oval indentation around the edge (resembling how a pie-crust looks, hence the name), a rollable crown, which can be folded and rolled for storage when travelling, or an unblocked crown, with a high, domed finish without any shaping, with or without a pinch. First-time hat wearers may prefer a lower crown, so as to be more discreet, whereas a taller crown has more of a visual impact. If you have a favourite hat, and you feel the crown is just a little overbearing, you can change the band and bow to a wider ribbon, and this create the optical illusion of a shallower crown height, and vice-versa – a narrower band will make the crown appear taller. Customising a hat can be extremely satisfying, either to improve the overall aesthetic, renew or refresh a cherished favourite or to change the look completely. Simply moving a traditional pinch at the front to the centre will transform a very English or European-styled hat, to one that resembles the “cowboy” look, for example. Changing the band and bow for a different colour, or even a stripe can perfectly complement an outfit too. All of these customisations are done daily at Lock & Co., simply and often inexpensively.
Tip 5: How to wear it
For formal hats, such as trilbies, fedoras and Panamas, they are conventionally worn level or “flat” across the head, with the hat resting comfortably about 2cm above the eyebrows, and above the ears (about where you would take the measure in Tip 1). Traditionally, the brim would be turned down at the front, and flicked upwards at the back, creating an elegant wing shape when viewed from side-on. This is the classic look, recognised the world over – think Paul Newman in The Sting or Sean Connery in Goldfinger. Alternatively, but still a definitive and cool look, the hat can be angled across slightly, lower over one eyebrow than the other – now think of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca or Frank Sinatra’s collection of trilbies. Completely different again, is a trend to turn the brim upwards all the way around, and recline the hat backwards on the head. Quite often this is seen paired with casual clothing, and will make the hat look completely different. There is really no right or wrong – and certainly no longer a “proper” way – although Top Hats are almost always worn level, especially for Ascot. Essentially, you could get multiple looks out of just one the one hat. For caps, they can also be worn level, or more commonly now at a slight angle to give the cap some more shaping, especially when the peak is curved down at the edges in proportion to the face shape – now we are back at The Sting again, but this time with Robert Redford, or David Beckham’s signature look.
Tip 6: A friend for life
Now you have chosen your perfect hat, you will want to ensure that it is in the best of shape and well cared for, for as long as possible. It is perfectly conceivable for a good quality hat or cap to serve you well for decades, and even look as good as the day you bought it many, many years later (indeed, it is not unusual for us to see customers still wearing their Lock & Co. hats at least thirty years later). A hat brush is a must, as steaming, then brushing a hat and cap will remove most everyday marks or dirt. Lock & Co. look after their hats for life, offering a complimentary steam and brush whenever you visit the shop, but this is something you can do at home too, and you can see how here. If the going gets very tough for your hat, renovations can be done by our Hatters to repair or replace most ailments (although once they have been eaten by the family dog or toddler, it may be too late…).
There are some dos and don’ts, though, which are worth noting:
- If you hat or cap gets wet, never place on a radiator, in an airing cupboard or near another heat source. Let it dry naturally, inside at room temperature. This will allow the fibres to dry-out slowly, and not shrink. If you have a hat-jack, place that inside to help retain the size and shape too.
- For hats, store them upside-down (crown downward) in the hat rester that came with your hat, ideally in their hat box to keep any dust off. If you do not have a rester, you can easily make one from a long rectangular piece of cardboard, fastened at the ends to make an oval that the crown can fit into.
- Never store a rollable hat rolled-up for longer than you have to. Instead, store it for long periods with the hat shaped as you would wear it.
- If you need to travel with a non-rollable hat, the best option is to wear it onto the aeroplane, then place it carefully in the overhead locker. If you have to pack it, place it carefully in the centre of your luggage with soft items (socks, rolled-up t-shirts etc.) inside the crown, with the brim flat, and a soft flat item (a folder pair of trousers, for example) over the top. This works best in a hard-sided case.
- If your hat gets misshapen, use a kettle or handheld steamer to gently steam the hat (mind your fingers, please) and use the back of a hat or clothes brush to help restore the form. Alternatively, bring it to Lock’s and we will re-block it for you.
See the full range on lockhatters.com.