Pick Up Buckets: A Short Guide to Pulling Off the Bucket Hat

By: Calum MarshDate: 2021-06-25
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Every bucket hat feels like a dare. Do you think you can pull off this look? Will it make you look cool? Or will it make you look like you’re on Gilligan’s Island? More than virtually any other piece of standard headwear — baseball cap, fedora, driving cap, knit toque — the bucket hat seems implicitly risky. There’s something radical about a bucket hat that, when worn correctly, can elevate an outfit to another level. But it requires you to commit to looking good.

The bucket hat’s downward-sloping brim began as a purely utilitarian choice of rural headgear. A fixture of the standard daily uniform of farmers, fishermen, and others working outdoors in the early days of the 20th century, it was often constructed of heavy-duty fabrics such as wool or Irish tweed, and was mainly beloved for its ability to keep heads warm and dry in times of winds and rain. The bucket hat had the advantage of being incredibly versatile and durable: It could be folded up, crammed in a pocket, and easily wiped clean after a long day on the job, making it a staple in the wardrobe of the working man at the dawn of the industrial revolution.

Bucket hats remained more or less strictly functional until the latter half of the century, when their presence in the military, both in the navy and on soldiers in the Vietnam war, made them suddenly hugely popular among western youth — especially in the United Kingdom, where they were a major part of the Mod explosion the in the 1960s. At the same time, they were beginning to crop up across popular culture, but with negative associations: they were synonymous with foolish figures such as Gilligan and Inspector Clouseau, making it hard for a while for them to be seen as cool.

In the 1980s, of course, the birth of hip hop completely changed the game. The bucket hat was huge with early rappers such as the Sugar Hill Gang and Run DMC, and the widespread approval of the garment throughout Black culture immediately overrode the prevailing sense of uncool that had dogged it across the previous decade. From there, it was a staple of the Madchester and later Britpop scenes with the Stone Roses’ Reni and Oasis’ Liam Gallagher rocking the look. Bucket hats have been distinctly hip more or less consistently ever since, worn with pride by everyone from Tyler the Creator to Rihanna and all kinds of fashionable celebrities in between.

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Still, there is a lingering feeling that if you pop on a bucket hat in 2021, you’re somehow not doing it right. The key is to fully embrace the vibe, leaning in to the casual cool of the bucket hat’s soft brim and punchy aesthetic. Today, the bucket hat is ideally suited to a day at the beach, an afternoon sipping beers on a bar patio, or dusk at a backyard barbecue, where the context calls for a laidback attitude and a feeling of sartorial panache. There is something inherently playful and joyous in the bucket hat, and as long as you capture that feeling, you’re going to look great.

Calum Marsh is a writer based in Toronto. His work appears in GQ, Complex, and The New York Times.