The first fedoras are usually black, sometimes brown, almost always made of fine, soft fur felt. They wear Stetson and Dobbs, names that have been around for decades as institutions of haberdashery.
Atlanta police homicide detectives like their traditions the way they like their hats. Classy. Meaningful.
Every one of the 16 homicide detectives has at least one fedora. It’s a solemn, stylish reward the first time he or she solves a case, paid for and delivered by the more experienced officers.
“It makes you feel like you’re part of something,” says Detective Mark Cooper, part of the unit since 2002. “Once you get it in your blood, you don’t want to do anything else.”
The fedora was a part of a detective’s garb through the late 1950s, when the pinched-and-creased hat was in style. Many credit retired Atlanta police Lt. Danny Agan for bringing it back when he joined the unit in 1979, and his partner, Sgt. Charles Horton, for keeping it going. Fedoras were long out of fashion — they’re tough to wear with big hair and big collars — but Agan says it made him feel completely dressed. He bought his son, homicide Detective Danny Agan Jr., his first fedora, too.
“You dress the part, you dress like a detective, you get better results,” says the senior Agan, 55, of Douglasville, who retired five years ago. “It commands respect: Who’s showing up to take charge of this mess?”
Even when Agan left the unit for a few years, snappy dressers continued the style.
In the early 1990s, it became less fashion statement, more symbol. Solve a case, earn a hat.
It was only in the early 2000s, though, that detectives started chipping in to buy the first hat. Now, it’s often presented at dinner or a meeting, Lt. Keith Meadows says, to catch its wearer off-guard.
Detectives say the head gear is popular enough now that people living around a crime scene know a homicide is suspected when a man in a fedora steps out of a car.
“When you see a fedora on TV, you know what the story is going to be about,” says Rick Linkwald, owner of the Executive Shop, a downtown clothing and hat store.
You can tell the police officers by their walk, he says. When they shop at this store, they gravitate to black fur felt Stetsons with wide brims and brown-and-red feathers, priced at $159. First-time hat buyers usually stare in the mirror and admit how much they look like their fathers and grandfathers; it’s not so different for detectives following a tradition instead of a trend.
“They want to dress like guys they admire,” Linkwald says.