Like the downstairs smoking lounge at Nat Sherman, J.J.’s Hat Center is a Manhattan institution frequented by suave gentlemen over the past century. In fact, it’s the island’s oldest hat shop. But reinvention is the heart of style, and 2011 saw the opening of J.J.’s first location off of 5th Avenue, Pork Pie Hatters in East Village. Now with a Williamsburg setup as well, Pork Pie is a rare modern intersection between old-school service, impeccable craft, and straight-up cool. It’s a necessary stop for any gent looking to define his character — and if the store’s experience outfitting Hollywood is any indication, you’re in good hands.
The tiny East Village hat shop hits you with a dry cedar musk as you enter, likely from all the crisp felt and leather lining the floor-to-ceiling shelves. A dapper man wearing a fedora immediately shakes your hand; he’s the kind of guy who both knows a ton about hats and looks darn good in one. He guesses your size just by looking at you (if you’re shopping for someone special, his sixth-sense guesses aren’t too bad either). A row of purple, blue, and yellow hats catch your eye — they’re made of top-of-the-line beaver felt, after all — but you can’t stop spotting other favorites. A beige number with a bow is straight off a film noir detective. And there’s the black pork pie hat worn by old-school mobsters. But you can’t go wrong with a classic: Try on a genuine charcoal-black top hat, fit for a Victorian gentleman.
A good hat is an investment, and among the more durable options are Pork Pie’s wool felt “crushable” ones. The shopman demonstrates by swiftly rolling a brown fedora tightly into a cylinder, then letting it pop back right into shape. These puppies can take a beating. Still, don’t overlook the puffy lambskin moutons (you can picture yourself voyaging through Moscow in one) or classic Italian flat caps, perfect for staying warm. Try them all on, because your ultimate question is a tricky one: What kind of guy do you want to be? Pork Pie can’t answer for you, but you can bet they’ll have the perfect cap for it.