The Hatter’s Mad Ball

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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?

Gloria Dawson / Brooklyn Ink

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.”

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