If you think long skirts are all the rage, check out what’s goin’ on with the black fedora.
Why DO some Orthodox men favor these antiquated black fedoras, en masse? Is it a closet Michael Jackson thing? (Answer: no.)
There are a couple of ideas behind the black hat.
1. Historically, it has been considered a sign of respect and gentlemanliness to wear one’s hat. JFK supposedly was the first prez to appear at his inauguration sans hat, which was either way cool or rather blasphemous, depending on how old you were at the time.
2. There is a mystical notion in Jewish tradition that while a man should keep his head covered (with a yarmulke/kippah) at all times, to demonstrate visually that God is above him, he should actually wear a DOUBLE covering while praying/saying blessings. The hat worked nicely, since everyone wore them for formal appearances, so having a formal appearance with God fit right in.
3. The fedora emerged in recent years as a “uniform” of sorts with the “yeshiva” community – and thus became viewed by adherents as a badge of pride, similar to tzitzit (the fringes some men wear hanging from under their shirts). Ie, you can wear it, or you can wear it with pride.
I’ll focus for now on the last point.
The “yeshiva” community is a culture and lifestyle based on the notion that the center of a man’s/boy’s academic attention should be the yeshiva – an institution of almost full-time Talmudic study. (Why this is for men and not women will be the subject of a separate post.)
The largest yeshiva in the US is Beth Medrash Govoha (translation: Upper House of Study) in the city of Lakewood, NJ. Remember: NOT Lakewood, Ohio. You’ll be searching the 480 for awhile in vain for the black fedoras. An entire yeshiva community has arisen around the yeshiva, and the “uniform” for a guy would be white shirt, black pants/jacket, and… the ubiquitous black hat.
Other aspects of the lifestyle include a resistance to pop culture (ie, not getting People magazine or going to movies), an emphasis on modesty between men and women, a passion for prayer, Torah study, and acts of kindness within the community, and the importance of large families when possible.
Believe it or not, all this is expressed with the donning of the black fedora.