More and more dudes are wearing ugly hats from 1999 and it needs to stop.
by Liam Mathews
I've always felt like a grumpy old man. I've been a hater and a contrarian and a general buzzkill for basically my entire life, which hasn't been very long. I'm 24. But that's long enough to have seen some shit. I remember a time before the internet, you know? I've seen trends come and go, and now, for the first time, I've seen a trend I participated in come back around. Unfortunately, that trend is bucket hats.
Bucket hats were last in fashion between roughly 1997-2002, with peak bucket hat occurring in the summer of 1999. Of course, there were famous bucket hats in culture before 1999. Hunter S. Thompson's bucket hat was as much a signature as his dark glasses and cigarette, and thanks to LL Cool J, every rapper in the '80s wore a Kangol. But it was the summer of '99 when radio airwaves were dominated by "You Only Get What You Give" by the New Radicals, a band that was really just one man and he looked like this:
I'm not criticizing the music. "You Only Get What You Give" remains a great song. But even at the age of 9, I thought Gregg Alexander looked like a fool with his hat pulled down over his eyes like that. He did not rock them the way that my camp counselors Miles and Josh rocked them. Miles and Josh were the coolest. They wore hemp necklaces and made up funny songs and took the CITs to see R-rated movies. I got a bucket hat to emulate them. I remember it clearly: it was navy blue with a white terry cloth lining. It looked like a coffee filter.
That's one of the biggest problems with the aesthetic of bucket hats: they look like a nine-year-old's idea of cool. They're silly. Floppy hats look undignified on men. Bucket hats are shapeless and drab and utilitarian. When they're spiced up, like Cam'Ron's pink camo bucket hat, they look forced, like a polished turd. You can bedazzle and Ed Hardyfy it until it looks like Miami Beach, but it's still a floppy shapeless fisherman hat, more appropriate for a Boca Raton retiree than a swagbro.
But there's a more insidious reason that bucket hats are no good beyond mere aesthetics. It's concisely summarized in Robert Foster's "Guide To Not Being A Dick This Summer" for Vice: "bucket hats are essentially rap fedoras." This is a vicious truth. The fedora is the most-maligned hat in existence, because guys who wear fedoras are trying to communicate "I was born in the wrong era, and I'm really a Humphrey Bogart-esque gentleman badass," but what they're really communicating is "I'm an angry nerd who doesn't understand social cues." This is well-documented. It's so consistent and ubiquitous that it's almost a truism: a man in a fedora is a tool.
What fedoras are for nerds, bucket hats are for hip-hop fans: "I was born in the wrong era, and I appreciate original hip-hop over this modern overproduced radio trash, bro. Hip-hop was real back then. I'm nostalgic for the Golden Age, even though I wasn't there." This is probably being charitable. Earl Sweatshirt and ScHoolboy Q, who each claim responsibility for bringing the bucket hat back, understand history and know that by wearing a bucket hat, they are placing themselves in the lineage of great bucket hat wearers. But most yung molly-popping bruhs like these English teenagers don't think of that. They see black guys and/or their peers wearing bucket hats and they imitate. Which is the natural order of things, admittedly. White people imitate black people to be cool. The thing about bucket hats, though, is that they don't look cool when anyone wears them. If rappers, the coolest people on the planet, who can wear stuff like this and still be sexy and menacing, can't make bucket hats look cool, a gawky suburban teenager has no chance. It wasn't cool in the boy band era, inarguably the worst years for fashion in the history of the world, and it's not cool now. Bucket hats are a gross manifestation of normcore that has struck art kids and streetwear kids alike, and it's turning them all into Gilligoons. If you don't believe me, click this link and then burn your computer down.
When Justin Bieber wore a bucket hat to Coachella, an incubator for unfortunate fashion trends and regrettable UTIs, it immediately sold out. This is how things filter into the mainstream: from hip-hop culture to some appropriating famous white person to Claire's outlets the world over. We've got a long few months ahead of us, where people with no business rocking them think they're cool under the ample brim of one these monstrosities. But at least bucket hats are the perfect shape to puke into, though, so they have that going for them.
Image via Getty.