The Pork Pie hat, a mild mannered piece of head wear plucked from near obscurity and made into an icon of crime and pop culture. That’s the effect of Breaking Bad and its main character Walter White had on the simple hat and the history of fashion.
The Pork Pie was primarily worn by women when it was first named such back in the 1830’s. At the start of the 1900’s it had started to be worn primarily by men but it wasn’t until the silent film actor Buster Keaton that the hat reached real popularity. Buster Keaton’s pork pie hats were styled differently than the modern or previous Pork Pies. His brim was flat, as was the crown top, resulting in a thinner profile.
During the great depression, the hats popularity peaked and returned to its earlier appearance. But even then it was just a hat. Famous wearers of the time included Frank Lloyd Wright, an American architect known for his wide brimmed and high crowned Pork Pie’s, and Lester Young an American jazz saxophonist. In Young’s case the Pork Pie was so synomous with him that American composer Charles Mingus wrote an elegy titled “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” for Young.
After this the Pork Pie saw a loss in overall popularity. It did become closely associated with jazz, blues, and ska. While it’s seen some spurts in popularity over the years in various sub cultures it’s been widely over shadowed by its close relative, the fedora.
The pork pie hat is an incredibly versatile piece of head wear. Being made from a large assortment of materials and styles it’s likely you can find a Pork Pie hat for any occasion. Whether it be black felt with a black ribbon and a wide brim for a formal occasion, straw with a multi colored hat band and short brim for a concert, or 100% Texas Rambouillet sheep wool felt with a hand-tacked grosgrain ribbon and a 1 7/8″ brim and 3 3/4″ side wall for selling meth in the New Mexico desert.
Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) Pork Pie hat was chosen for practicality. A bald cancer patient couldn’t be walking around in the New Mexico sun with his scalp exposed, both as far as realism and in the prolonged world of a film shoot. None the less the choice vaulted the hat into the forefront of pop culture. The hat became synonymous with White’s drug dealing and all around badass persona, Heisenberg. The hat from the show was even placed in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History as an artifact of Entertainment.
There really has never been a better time to wear a classic pork pie.