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The Hidden Meaning Behind Walter White's Pork Pie Hat In Breaking Bad

Television history was forever changed on January 20th, 2008 when a little show called Breaking Bad debuted on AMC. The story of a high school chemistry teacher who teams up with his slacker former student to make and sell meth captivated audiences with a winning combination of humor, suspense, and action that added up to a one-of-a-kind show. Arguably, nothing since has matched it in terms of quality, even though Breaking Bad ended back in 2013

It's clear that people can't get enough of Breaking Bad. Between the spin-off, Better Call Saul, and a Netflix original movie, El Camino, people still want to explore this universe. No detail is too small to put under a microscope, and that includes one of the most iconic pieces of costuming on the show: Walter White's pork pie hat. Maybe you just thought Bryan Cranston knew how to rock some awesome headgear. But as it turns out, there's some extra significance to the pork pie hat that makes it extra relevant to the world of Breaking Bad

The pork pie hat originated in the 1830s

Walter White may have made the pork pie hat cool in the 21st century, but it has roots dating back nearly 200 years, having first been worn in the 1830s (via History of Hats). American and British women typically wore the hat, which was often adorned with a ribbon or feather. Still, it would take nearly a century for it to really catch on. 

The pork pie became even more popular during the 1930s and '40s. At this time, the hat changed shape slightly, increasing modestly in height and regaining a snap brim. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright could be seen wearing a pork pie hat in public. Where it really rose to prominence, though, was within the realm of jazz.

In the 1940s, the African American community took the pork pie to a whole new level as it became increasingly associated with zoot suits. Pork pies in this era were flashy and often designed to coordinate with the rest of a person's suit. 

Walter White's hat contains cinematic significance

The 1971 film The French Connection is a must-watch for any Breaking Bad fan. The film follows Detective Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) in his pursuit of a wealthy narcotics dealer. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and in what's perhaps an even greater honor, Detective Doyle's hat lives on in infamy with Walter White. 

The iconic pork pie hat on Breaking Bad is strikingly similar to that worn by Hackman as Detective Doyle. It's an appropriate reference, considering both properties deal with narcotics — a fact that wasn't lost on the Breaking Bad writers. 

In the Season 4 episode "Bullet Points," Hank mentions The French Connection to Walter in discussing his pursuit of Heisenberg. However, Walter points out that Doyle never actually caught the drug smuggler, Charnier. Throughout the series, Walter and Hank play a game of cat-and-mouse with plenty of parallels to The French Connection. So... were the Breaking Bad writers playing the long game when it came to making such a clever movie reference? 

Breaking Bad's writers brought in the hat for a practical purpose

The pork pie hat connects two fantastic on-screen drug dramas. But while referencing The French Connection is neat, there's a more practical reason why Walter White wore a pork pie hat. 

The series, of course, kicks off when Walter is diagnosed with cancer. As a result, he goes through chemo and loses his hair. Bryan Cranston actually shaved his head to play the part — not exactly a safe move when you're planning on filming a lot of outdoor scenes in the hot Albuquerque sun. Without proper protection, his head would have turned bright red in no time. So the costume department handed him a hat, and the rest is television history. 

The pork pie hat made its debut in the first season episode "A No Rough Stuff Type Deal." It continued to appear throughout the series — not to mention on countless t-shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers bearing Walter White's silhouette.