Driving down a dreary stretch of Coney Island Avenue, I spotted a huge Borsalino hat on a fat post; was I driving through Brooklyn or Bemidji, Minnesota?
It didn’t take long to surmise that The Hat Box caters to the orthodox Jewish community, and that this store specializes in Borsalinos, the Cadillac of Jewish Fedoras.
It would take a book to explain orthodox Jewish headgear, but here’s a primer: Borsalinos are not to be confused with yarmulkes (or kippas), the Jewish skullcap, or Shtreimels, the fancy fur hats married Orthodox Jews wear on the Sabbath, or the shtreimels’ cousins, the spodik (made from the back fur of the fisher tale) or the kolpik (made from brown fur—and seen as intermediate headgear between Shabbat and normal weekday dress). The Borsalino is, well, sexier (Alan Delon called his 1970 gangster film Borsalino simply because the hats were fashionable)...and young orthodox boys covet getting their first one. Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a Hasid wearing a Borsalino in Williamsburg, home of the uber-religious Satmar sect (they fiercely oppose Zionism, i.e. the modern state of Israel). But I digress. Borsalinos are individually made, cost around $350, and are the religious Jew version of the Stetson—a status symbol that signals one is part of the local community.
That aside, what I love about The Hatbox is its roadside sartorial gigantism. The hat is big, proud, and on this depressing stretch of Coney Island Avenue, delightfully weird.
A peak inside reveals that religious Jews care not only about black headgear, but colorful socks, too.
Taped to the store’s wall, was an ad for a series of religious lectures, including “The Greatness of Failure,” by Rabbi Mordechai Becher—a theme close to my heart.
Look across the street, above Esti’s (caters to religious Jewish women) and you’ll spot what may be the only orthodox love graffiti in the city: “Bubby, I love you with all my heart.”
The Hat Box
1837 Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11230