Top hats, fedoras, bowlers, flannel hats, wool hats, leather hats, and fur-lined hats line the shelves of Goorin Bros. Hat Shop in Park Slope. Antique-looking hatboxes line the store’s perimeter. Relics are tucked between displays – an old-fashioned camera, a typewriter, wooden bowling pins, and magnifying glasses. Two old barbershop chairs sit next to the cash register counter. Phonograph horns have been repurposed into lampshades. I walk by a teenage boy who turns to his mother and asks, “Where are the monocles?”
I’m wondering what I’ve stumbled upon on this Saturday night. Even in Brooklyn, where there is a niche for everything – in fact, the shop sits next to a pressed sandwich place and down the street from a craft beer seller – I find it hard to imagine the survival of an old-fashioned hat shop.
How many fedoras do Brooklynites need?
And why are so many people here buying them?
Because by eight o’clock the shop on 5th Avenue is jammed with people of all ages. In the store’s back corner, a woman tries on a bowler hat for her husband and teenage son.
“You look old,” says the son, deadpan.
I hear a middle-aged woman say to her companion, “I’m gonna get two. I never find hats that look good on me.” A tall, well-built man stares at his reflection. He has tried on what the shop calls a “Gatsby hat,” and he smiles as he says to his mirror image, “may I have some porridge?” Near the front door, a boy no more than four feet tall replaces his flat-brimmed Florida Marlins baseball cap with a fedora that’s a few sizes too large.
I can’t help myself; all I want to do is try on hats, but I can’t seem to find one that looks good on me. Once the shopkeeper helps a tall, young woman to find the right size of a hat that makes her look like a 1920’s flapper, he introduces himself to me as Alex Mroz.
He puts on a top hat and hands me a Gatsby hat with a plaid print, size small. I look at myself in the mirror, laugh at my reflection, and take the hat off. I feel like I’m playing dress up. When I pause before trying on a new hat, Mroz scolds me. “I don’t see you trying on enough hats,” he says with a smile.
So I try on more hats. I wander around the store, stopping every few feet to try on a new one. The fedora is too big and covers my eyes. The bowler floats on top of my head like a balloon. The ear-flaps of the fur-lined hat hang down to my shoulders. I fear I’m not a hat person.
Mroz insists that anyone can wear a hat, and the right one will give you confidence.
“There’s a certain kind of magic that happens here,” he tells me. “There’s something about a hat that arms someone with courage.”