With His Crazy Hat, Pharrell Normalized Weird Fashion

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On January 26, 2014, Pharrell Williams out-Pharrelled even Pharrell. That night, he appeared on the Grammy’s red carpet in jeans, undone Timberland boots, a red leather Adidas track jacket—and a totally demented and giant hat.

Williams’s hat remains one of the most legendary moments in fashion history. Forget controversial—people didn’t even know what to make of it in the first place. Was it funny? Was it ugly? Was it genius? Was it a grail so advanced that no one could hope to understand? As it turned out, the hat would be revealed as all of the above. But in the moment, all we knew was that the hat’s cowboy-goldminer-I’m-thinkin’-Arby’s vibe clashed with the standard look of Official Cool Guy Spokesman Pharrell, to say nothing of tuxedoed awards show attendee. In one of the first and finest examples of brands tweeting like people, Arby’s asked the musician for their hat back. Shortly thereafter, someone else started an entire account dedicated to tweeting both as, and about, the hat.

Within 24 hours, the Twitterati had identified the hat as a signature accessory, the Buffalo Hat, from Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s first official fashion show, Autumn/Winter’s 1983 “Nostalgia of Mud.” That show catapulted them from the anti-establishment kids behind Sid Vicious’s safety pins to full-on Paris runway disruptors with a collection of soft-tailored layers in a dusty palette. McLaren said at the time that this was his attempt “to show in clothes and music that, in the post-industrial age, the roots of our culture lie in primitive societies”; you can see how the hat is like a blown-up bowler with a cowboy hat brim, but its dented, molded crown makes it look somehow humane instead of ridiculous and swaggery, at least in the context of that initial show.

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Williams’s unusual combination of a red track jacket with the hat was traced back to the music video for “Buffalo Girl,” a single McLaren made with The World’s Famous Supreme Team, in which members of the hip hop group wore the hat with Adidas tracksuits. (Admittedly, Williams’s combination doesn’t work so smoothly: the jeans are too fitted, too so-clearly-2014, to look timeless enough to match the daring of the ensembles that inspired it.) So it wasn’t as out of left-field as it seemed. In essence, Williams was annotating a chapter of fashion history.

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But then Williams did something weird: he just kept wearing The Hat. He wore The Hat to Nobu in London on February 6, with a gray fur-trim coat. He wore it later that month to an after-party for the BRIT Awards in London, establishing a uniform less for Williams than for The Hat: jeans, track or varsity jacket, and undone sneakers or boots. Earlier that night, he’d performed his nihilist chill-pill of a hit, “Happy,” in a pair of distressed plaid patchwork jeans by Junya Watanabe and a camel blazer, an outfit whose fashion credentials matched that of The Hat.

Pharrell Williams
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

But otherwise, the repetition and uniformity of The Hat’s styling made it look somehow normal. He bought The Hat in every available colorway, and he wore it in April in hunter green to his 41st birthday party, which was improbably hosted by Spongebob, with a mustard yellow Billionaire Boys Club varsity jacket. He wore it with a hoodie at Coachella the next week, twice, and with a hoodie and ripped jeans and Ugg boots to the premiere of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 at the end of the month. He even released a music video in which he exclusively wears the hat in every color. He wore it over and over, at nearly every single red carpet appearance between January and April. Even when he was wearing another hat, he was still wearing The Hat.

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