Breaking Bad’s main character Walter White is so iconic that just about anyone could identify him based on his silhouette alone. His hat alone is a dead giveaway, but what is the type of hat that Walter White wears?
Walter White wears a pork pie hat when he’s working under his alter ego: meth-cooking Heisenberg. This accessory is a gesture to Detective Doyle’s hat in The French Connection, a film that follows a similar plot to Breaking Bad.
Whether you’re a die-hard Breaking Bad fan or just trying to design your Halloween costume with accuracy, keep reading. In this article, you’ll learn more about the significance of Walter White’s pork pie hat, how it got its name, and some key differences that separate it from other hats of similar styles.
Who Is Walter White?
If you’re unfamiliar with the plot of Breaking Bad, the TV show follows the adventures of high school chemistry teacher Walter White. An unfortunate cancer diagnosis with an expensive treatment plan leaves him and his family scrambling for money.
Walter White decides to put his chemistry knowledge to work and begins to cook crystal meth. The series follows the chaotic ups and downs of Walt’s journey balancing his family life, terminal lung cancer, and teaching – all while stepping into the dangerous and unpredictable world of cooking and selling meth on the down-low.
This may sound like a hard enough feat in itself (I mean, being a drug lord doesn’t exactly sound easy), but it gets exponentially harder when your brother-in-law is a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It’s especially difficult when he’s leading the investigation to track down the source of the high-quality meth that suddenly appeared in the area.
Does Walter White’s Hat Have Any Significance?
Actually, yes. Walter White’s iconic hat isn’t just a trendy fashion accessory; it actually has some meaning behind it.
Sure, the original reason Walt began to incorporate a hat into his look was purely pragmatic. As a chemotherapy patient, he started to lose his hair. Like so many cancer patients do, Walter decided to just shave his head instead. (Fun fact: Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston actually did shave his head for the role of Walter White.)
As some die-hard Breaking Bad fans might already know, the infamous hat was added to protect Bryan Cranston’s head. It wasn’t part of Walter White’s original wardrobe.
The thing is, if you’re going to be spending all day cooking meth (or at least pretending to) out in the hot New Mexico sun, you’re going to desperately need to protect your skin from those powerful UV rays. And if you’re bald, you’re going to need to shield your head even more. A burnt scalp does not sound like much fun.
So, Walt’s signature hat came to be. Only the second he put that hat on, he was no longer Walter White: husband, father, chemistry teacher. No, the pork pie hat represented someone else entirely. He was Heisenberg: the man behind the purest and bluest meth around.
While the hat represents Walt’s shift between his true identity and his alter ego, Heisenberg’s iconic pork pie getup has some other cinematic ties.
Walter White wasn’t the first drug-connected character to don a pork pie hat on screen. Popeye Doyle of The French Connection, a detective, determined to catch a narcotics dealer, also sported this fashion accessory. Coincidence? Possibly, but there’s more to the story.
The brilliant writers of Breaking Bad went so far as to address the link between the two characters explicitly. In a scene where Hank, the DEA brother-in-law, discusses his Heisenberg chase, he references the film. Walter replies to this by noting that detective Doyle didn’t succeed in catching the drug lord.
Hank and Walter’s relationship throughout the series mimics that of Doyle and Charnier, the drug smuggler. Like in the film, Hank is never able to bring Walter to justice despite knowing that he is, in fact, Heisenberg.
Where Did the Pork Pie Hat Get Its Name?
Pork pie does seem like an odd name for a hat. Well, if you’ve ever seen a pork pie pastry, you may notice the resemblance between the two. If you aren’t familiar with them, don’t fret. The dish isn’t as commonplace as it was back in the 19th century when the hat came to be, although it’s still very common in the UK.
The tall, flakey pork pie is just that: a pie filled with pork. Its smooth, flat top accompanied by a crimped edge mirrors the hat’s construction almost perfectly. Of course, while the actual pie is made of pastry, the hat can be made of a variety of materials, including felt, silk-covered cotton, or straw. Read more about how the pork pie hat got its name in this article.
Pork Pie vs. Fedora vs. Bowler
It’s quite easy to confuse the pork pie, fedora, and bowler hats. All three styles have relatively tall crowns, brims, and a band. Here are the major differences between each of these types of hats:
Pork Pie Hat
As we already discussed, the edges of the pork pie hat’s crown are pinched all the way around. The circular design of this crease is commonly referred to as a telescope crown. The brim of the pork pie hat angles upwards around the entire hat. Lots of people call this style of brim a stingy brim.
Compared to a fedora, the crown on this hat is usually slightly shorter. A defining feature of the pork pie hat is that it has a flat top, which neither the fedora nor the bowler hats possess.
Aside from Heisenberg, you can find pop culture icons like Woody Harrelson in Now You See Me or Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa adopting this look. You can, too, with the Heisenberg lookalike Samlife Store’s 100% Wool Pork Pie Hat.
The fedora’s design is not as easy to pinpoint as that of some other hats. This is because there are six different shapes that the dent on the top of a fedora’s crown can take on: the teardrop, cattleman, center dent, diamond, open crown, or a telescope. The last two configurations can make it challenging to differentiate the fedora from a pork pie or bowler hat.
A fedora’s brim must be at least 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) to separate it from a pork pie style – that is, if said fedora has a telescope brim. To make it even more confusing, the fedora can have a stingy brim too, but they also may be angled down at the back only.
If a fedora has an open crown, it can easily be confused with a bowler hat. However, most fedora-wearers choose to sport their hat with some sort of dent in the crown. They are also pinched in the front, creating a more angular look.
You’ll easily recognize this accessory from the wardrobes of stars like Michael Jackson, Pharrell, or iconically, fictional character Indiana Jones. If you want to join the club, check out this hugely popular LADYBRO’s Fedora Hat that comes in 20 different colors and your choice between 100% wool or a plant-based and synthetic material blend.
Also known as a derby hat, this accessory never has an indentation in the crown. They always feature a rounded top as well as a rounded front. Bowler hats sit higher on the head than both pork pies and fedoras. Plus, the derby style has a narrower, more noticeably curled brim on its side.
These days, bowler hats are not nearly as common as they once were. Back in the ’60s, you could find The Beatles rocking these or David Bowie in the ’70s. Derby hats are also immortalized in art like the play Waiting for Godot, the artwork for the novel A Clockwork Orange, or painting The Son of Man. Travel back in time by adding a GEMVIE Black Derby Hat made completely of wool felt – yet is shockingly breathable – to your wardrobe.
Walter White – or his blue-meth cooking alter ego, Heisenberg – wears a pork pie hat. The accessory is now an iconic part of this Breaking Bad star’s wardrobe but was only added to protect actor Bryan Cranston’s head from the Alburquerque sun.
Writers of the show use this particular hat as a nod to the film The French Connection, where a detective is trying to catch a fellow narcotics dealer and does so while wearing the pork pie hat.