There is a new hat in town, and his name is capotain. The tall, conical headgear, usually associated with the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims, is just the latest adoption of the “artisanal” lifestyle scene, and a natural follow-up to the handle-bar mustaches, vests and suspenders that have typified the aesthetic. The surge of interest in the “pilgrim hat,” as it is often called, is a natural step for a movement that has always looked to bygone times for cutting edge fashion and authenticity.
Dan Bryant, 30, of Astoria, Queens, sports a narrow grey number, hand-crafted from limited-run weather-resistant canvas, and featuring a heritage leather strap and reinforced titanium buckle. “Actually, I thought it was a wizard hat,” he told me, “but the Pilgrims had it right, too. They get a bad rap these days, but having a buckle on your hat is a very versatile feature.” He pulls his strap tight, demonstrating. “Let’s see you knock my hat off now. Can’t, can you?”
In past years, so-called “hipster” culture has been frequently criticized for appropriating feathered headdresses, and otherwise employing ironic depictions of Native cultures and practices. The rising popularity of the pilgrim hat may be, in a sense, a collective response to this criticism. At first glance, the Pilgrims may not bear much resemblance to the young creative class, but by appropriating the popular style of these settlers, artists and trend-setters moving into marginalized neighborhoods can show a grim sense of self-awareness by paying tribute to theses patron saints of American gentrification.
Jason Murray, bike messenger, removes his capotain, and shakes out his long blond dreadlocks on a busy Greenpoint sidewalk. His hat is shorter and stubbier, and a light fawn color. It is made from felted merino lambswool, and is slightly frayed around the edges. There is no buckle. “A lot of these people…” He pauses. “A lot of these idiots think the Pilgrims wore buckles on their hats. This is authentic.” His blog, BrooklynPilgrim, has received literally dozens of hits, and is the premier source of information for young people looking to live a more pilgrim lifestyle. He is also an early adopter of the pilgrim diet, which consists mostly of roots, berries, squash, turkey and stuffing. “It’s just a lot more, like, real, than the processed crapola that McDonalds and the corporations want you to eat,” he tells me.
Kent Glick, owner and operator of the Myles Standish Buckle Hat Manufacturing Company in Long Island City, is thrilled by the recent uptick in popularity for his product. “I inherited this business from my father,” he says, “and believe you me, things were different back then. It was a different world. Most of the buckle hat operations have moved to China. It’s cheaper to make them over there, but the quality just isn’t the same.” Despite this, Kent is confident that things are looking up for the American capotain industry. “All year we’ve just been getting by, treading water, but the last month or so? Sales are through the roof!”
“This time,” he says, “pilgrim hats are back for good.”