PETER HILL IN SYDNEY
An excerpt from MITT Magazine Issue Nº1
Words by Andrew Geeves
Photography by Giuseppe Santamaria
Peter Hill is something of a hybrid, combining the cheekiness of an Australian larrikin with the appropriateness of an English gentleman. He walks at an unhurried pace, keeping his spine straight and shoulders back. Potential parents-in-law would be impressed by his politeness while the twinkle in his eye would assure future siblings-in-law that they will gain a lively drinking partner.
Hill, a clean-shaven, 23-year-old, is as confident using old-school Australian terminology—“strewth” and “strike” are favourites—as he is wearing a pair of tailor-made pants, and accessorising his Harrington with a cravat and one of his 60 ties or 20 hats, mostly Akubras. Such a collection seems appropriate for a man who has spent the past four years working in a hat and accessories store. “I’ve got a sick disease,” Hill confesses, “and this job is enabling me!” Nestled among the designer boutiques and elegant cafes of Sydney’s iconic Victorian-era Strand Arcade, Strand Hatters aims to provide service with old-world levels of attentiveness while remaining modern in its lack of pomp and ceremony. It is difficult to imagine Hill in a more fitting work environment.
I meet Hill at the end of his shift on a hot and humid day that marks the beginning of Sydney’s sticky summer season. Hill appears to be purposely resisting the elements in his immaculately detailed outfit: tiny elephants pattern a green Drake’s pocket square that peeks out of a double-breasted Lardini navy blazer, and a cornflower blue Kamakura Oxford cotton button-down shirt is neatly tucked into Iron Heart jeans. Finishing the look are a sapphire Drake’s tie, braces striped red, white and blue, a tan pair of Church’s penny loafers, an IWC watch and, of course, a hat—today, Akubra’s basic Swing fedora. Something tells me that I am not the only Australian male who has felt underdressed in Hill’s presence.
Citing influences that range from Cary Grant to Prince Charles, Hill describes how his style centres on the incorporation of workwear elements into a softly tailored Italian look: “I gravitate towards denims and the harder fabrics. I like my clothes to have the ability to age and create their own personality. But then I like to offset that with a tailored jacket or nice tie. It’s about balance. I don’t want to look like I’m from a period drama. Keeping it personal is very important.” Making room for a strong sense of personality in his style has always been important to Hill, despite sporting a radically different look in his younger years. “I’ve always been concerned with how I’ve appeared to the rest of the world,” he recalls. “I remember in high school I was cutting up flannelette shirts, wearing black skinny jeans, bespoke red leather pants and ripped Iron Maiden shirts. I was listening to aggressive music, and I tailored my look completely to that.”
As we talk, it becomes apparent that what Hill wears on the outside is closely linked to what he feels—about himself and others—on the inside. “I cannot go to work without a tie on,” he explains. “I need something around my neck because I feel better and I act in a way that is more appropriate for the shop. Clothing definitely affects your attitude. When I am all dressed up, I feel good, act nicer and do my job better. Sometimes we think that they are just clothes; to some degree they are. But we build an emotional investment in clothes and that’s how they come to be so important. I’ve got an old Levi’s trucker jacket that I inherited from my dad that has faded to almost white. It’s too big for me but I grew up wearing it so it has always been there. I’ll have that for a long time.”
Hill’s relationship to clothing is intriguing in the context of his family background. While his father would instruct him and his older brother to comb their hair and tuck their shirts in when going to visit their grandparents and his mother looked at his flannelette shirts with disdain, Hill did not grow up in an especially clothing-conscious family. His brother, one year his senior, has always looked to him for style assistance and still persists in “borrowing” pieces from his wardrobe. Perhaps Hill’s emotional investment in clothing is tied to the time he has spent tracking and learning about the styles of bygone eras. “With music, you slowly backtrack a style that you like to its roots,” he explains, “For me, it was the same with clothing. I’d look at modern-day designers who I liked and then backtrack and find a decade I was comfortable with.”
Employment at Strand Hatters has played a central role in Hill’s ongoing education about style. “It’s a killer job. I’m always learning something. It’s a great hub for meeting people who are interested in clothing. Sydney is still a very evolving city in terms of clothing. The menswear community becomes smaller and smaller as you meet more people, and it’s great to build that small sense of community.” In his role as assistant store manager—a title he resists, downplaying his work by describing himself as “still just a salesperson”—Hill not only assists with buying but is also responsible for the crucial duty of fitting customers with hats, a task that is both a craft and an art form. Hat-fitting involves combining physical labour—steaming and shaping hats on the block—with a highly refined knowledge of the rules that govern what type of hat suits what type of person. “There are so many different hats that can be a staple for a guy,” enthuses Hill. “When someone walks in, I want him to feel good in the hat. It’s just about finding the right one. A lot of men say ‘I’m not a hat guy.’ They’re usually trying on the same thing that never suited them and still doesn’t suit them.”
Hill lists some go-to rules that guide his hat-fitting process, all of which spring from the general principle of achieving balance between a hat and the shape of a customer’s face and body: even out a square jaw with a square crown; widen brim width to balance out height; offset a long face with greater crown height to ensure that the eyes sit comfortably between the top of the hat and bottom of the jaw; hide big ears with a baggy cap. The only thing more important than being familiar with the rules, according to Hill, is being prepared to break them, “I have to know the rules and know when not to follow them. You have to bend the rules to create some sort of personal style.”