The name “pork pie hat” can refer to a number of different hats that were popular starting in the 1830s and continued to be worn all the way into the middle of the 20th century. As you probably guessed, it got its name from the British meat pie which, like the hat itself, can vary widely in terms of quality and fanciness. The most popular style of pork pie during the steam era was called the Melton Mowbary due to the prevalence of pig farming in the area near Leicester. It was a simple pie with a hand molded crust, uncured pork, and ‘meat jelly’ (which sounds pretty gross but helps to fill in gaps between the pieces of meat for even baking) and could be served hot or cold.
If you want to know more, you can visit the (no joke) Melton Mowbary Pork Pie Association website. Pork pies, and so that hats named after them, were cylindrical. But unlike a flat top hat, pork pie hats have a distinctive crown. This raised edge is what truly makes something a pork pie hat.
The Origin of the Pork Pie Hat
When pork pie hats were first introduced, they were mostly worn by women in America and Great Britain. They had small brims and were often adorned with a feather or two. They could be made from any material, such as straw, silk, or felt. Pork pie hats fell out of favor around the beginning of the American Civil War, and did not become a man’s fashion accessory until the 1920’s.
Actor Buster Keaton was hardly ever seen without his trusty straw pork pie, and this brought the style back into favor for several decades. On a fun side note, Keaton actually made his own pork pie hats by taking fedoras and other hats that were already constructed and altering them. He made over a thousand hats this way in his lifetime. Pork pies became flashier during the 1930s and 40s, and became strongly associated with jazz music and the zoot suit.
Nowadays, the pork pie hat is still seen in some forms of military dress, such as the US Navy, as well as being popular among hipsters.