The hierarchy of hats: A Q&A with ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone


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As costume designer of the Matt Damon/Emily Blunt sci-fi romance thriller ‘The Adjustment Bureau,’ (which opened this past Friday) Kasia Walicka Maimone was the one charged with creating the retro-tinged contemporary look of the well-dressed, fedora-wearing mystery men who suddenly appear out of nowehere to ‘adjust’ his life trajectory.

Once I saw the movie -- and realized the hats play a small but signficant role (without spoiling anything, let’s just say they’re a source of power for the boys in the bureau) -- I wanted to know more. Below are a few excerpts from our recent conversation.


Q: Since the 1954 Philip K. Dick short story ‘The Adjustment Team’ makes no mention of hats at all, where did the idea come from?

Kasia Walicka Maimone: [Sceenwriter-director] George [Nolfi] was very specific about the idea that the Adjustment Bureau have a sort of hierarchy -- like the military.

At the same time we wanted the agents to have a contemporary look that would mostly blend in on the street -- but also one that would stand out just enough to notice. Q: What do you mean hierarchy? Like military rank?

KWM: Yes, the Bureau is like a whole army of people -- all at different levels -- so there needed to be all kinds of different hats; fedoras for the higher ranks, for example, with more sporty hats and even baseball caps worn by the agents in the lower ranks.

Q: How many hats were used in the movie?

KWM: Counting the multiple hats for each character, all the different agents and the more casual hats for the lower ranks? Probably about 300 hats altogether.

Q: What inspired the overall look of the agents?

KWM: We started by looking over tons of old photography books -- photos of the common man -- from as far back as the ‘30s. Then, because George’s idea made the hat such a central tool of the storytelling we had to really make sure that it resonated in reality -- so we spent a lot of time on the streets [of New York] and looking at sites like the Sartorialist -- which gave us a lot of confidence.

Q: What kind of hats were people wearing on the streets of New York?

KWM: I live in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn -- which is like this mecca of young fashion. It was shocking to see how many young men are wearing hats. Of course we pushed it and made it even more stylized for the movie.

Q: So, basically, you borrowed the stingy brim fedora from the hipster and then kicked it up a notch by broadening the brim?

KWM: Because the hipsters made the stingy brim fedora their own, they grounded it in reality -- and that helps the look of the film feel more grounded in reality. Of course now you see on the [fashion] runways, the brims are getting much wider.

Q: Apart from using the hierarchy you mentioned above, how did you go about choosing the hats for each character?

KWM: We spent a lot of time fitting the appropriate hat to each character -- we saw it as the final gesture in a man’s outfit. Each of the gentlemen: Matt Damon, Terence Stamp, Anthony Mackie and John Slattery –- wore their hat completely differently -– and each one had a different personality that demanded a different hat.

For example, Terence obviously needed the wide brim. For Matt, who is wearing a hat as a functional choice -- not a wardrobe choice -- which made it more interesting to find the right hat.

Q: What brands and styles did you end up using? They’re all fedoras, right?

KWM: Yes, Terence Stamp and John Slattery both wear Borsalino of Italy [brown and gray, respectively], Matt Damon wears a gray, straw, short-brim fedora from Biltmore of Canada. Anthony Mackie wears [a number of hats including] a gray, straw, short-brim fedora by Biltmore and a gray, felt Tomaz & Williamson stingy-brim fedora.

Q: Do you see hats in a different light after working on ‘The Adjustment Bureau’?

KWM: I’ve always loved hats, even more so now -- and I’m very happy to see what’s happening on the [men’s] fashion runways right now with hats.

Q: What advice would you give to a guy looking for one of these hats for the first time -- if he doesn’t happen to have the benefit of working with a costume designer?

KWM: Start with a trip to a hat store like J.J. Hat Center [in Manhattan] or Bencraft Hatters [in Brooklyn]* because the gentlmen who work there know a lot about different styles and they’ll encourage you to try a bunch of styles to see what feels right. In the end it’s about owning the right to wear the hat.

The relationship between the width of the brim and the height of the crown is what determines the right fit for a particular head, so you should try a few different combinations, as well as trying both straw and felt hats.

Summer’s coming, and since it’s a more casual time and there’s more of a justification to wear one, it’s a perfect time to explore the hat.

Adjustment Bureau’ costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone’s last film was ‘Moneyball,’ due out later this year. Last week she started working on her next project -- Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’

-- Adam Tschorn

* If you live in Southern California, try Hollywood Hatters in Los Angeles, Baron California Hats in Burbank, the Village Hat Shop in Long Beach or the Goorin Bros. hat shops in Los Angeles or San Diego.

in a Tomaz & Williamson stingy-brim fedora and Matt Damon (with Emily Blunt) in a gray, straw stingy-brim fedora. Credit: Andrew Schwartz / Universal Studios.