From the moment Guns N’ Roses broke to a mass audience in 1987, one of the more defining characteristics of the band was the curly haired guitarist sporting the top hat. So how did Slash acquire his signature look and why did it become part of his stage performance ritual? Let’s get into that below.
How Did Slash Acquire His Famous Top Hat?
Back in 2010, the guitarist shared with the Associated Press (via CBS News) how he first came across the hat, revealing, “I went into this in store on Melrose in Los Angeles and saw a top hat, and was like, ‘Oh that’s looks cool.’ And we had a show that night,” he said, “so I was definitely looking for something to wear for the show that evening.” With not much money, he decided to walk out with the hat, and he decorated the hat with pieces cut from a “concho” belt he’d just nicked from another store.
In 2022, he elaborated to Conan O’Brien on the Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend podcast, “I remember this because there were two stores — there was Leathers and Treasures, and Retail Slut next door. And Taime Downe, the singer from a band called Faster Pussycat, used to work at Retail Slut, so that’s how I remember the name of it. I went in there, and I didn’t have any money. And I always used to wear some sort of a hat; it completed whatever look you had.”
He continued, “I went in there and I just saw the top hat. It just spoke to me. I figured, what the fuck, I’ll just walk out with it and see what happens, so I did. Then I went next door to Leathers and Treasures and I stole a concho belt and went back to the apartment me and Axl were living in at the time. We had a show at the Whisky that night, so I took the concho belt and I cut it up and put it around the hat, and I wore it that night.”
While it may seem like bad karma to have lifted the item that became his signature look, Slash reveals that eventually the hat was stolen from him. He told Howard Stern in a 2020 interview, “Not long after, I got drunk at the Cathouse and someone stole it from me, and then I had to pay for the next one.” According to Slash’s Stern interview, he currently owns four top hats with one gifted to him by Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead being his most recent one.
Why Did Slash Keep the Top Hat Look?
“I’ve always been a little nervous in front of crowds and that made it —made me — feel a lot more comfortable,” the guitarist explained to the AP.
He elaborated to Ireland’s Nova, “From that night on, my hat became something that I feel comfortable in. It has also become something I can hide behind, as even though I love performing, I have never been good at looking into the eyes of the audience who are watching me, so, my hat and my hair in my face has been my thing ever since.”
As he told Conan, “I wore it all the time. There was a way you pull it over your eyes; you could hide behind it if you were really high. It was great for bad hair days. I had no intention of it being this long-term show thing.”
He elaborated, “Put the hat on, and nobody knows who I am and what I’m doing and what I’m up to. I can see you, you can’t see me. During shows, it was great to have that because to this day, I still can’t look at the audience, like, straight into the audience. So having the top hat, really, you just pull it down and you could just do your thing and you didn’t feel as intimidated.”
Slash Never Meant for the Top Hat to Be Long Term
As Slash told Stern, the idea was initially just to wear the hat for one show. “It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t sort of see it coming. But essentially it did become a signature kind of thing.”
But that feeling of wearing the hat masked his shyness. For a while he even wore it out and about, but Slash says that’s not the case these days. “I wear it onstage and for photos and stuff, but I don’t wear it on the street anymore. It’s ridiculous. I couldn’t think of a better word.”
When Stern asked about the practicality of the hat, Slash assured him, “It’s just tall enough to be tall but it’s just short enough not to be knocked off by a gust of wind.” He added to Nova, “I do not really know how I do it, but my hat just really stays on.”
Slash Returns to GN’R
The top-hatted Slash was almost as an identifiable figure as the band’s snake-dancing lead vocalist Axl Rose during the band’s initial impactful years, but eventually each of the band’s members with the exception of Rose left the group in the ’90s.
Slash went on to form Slash’s Snakepit for his solo work, enjoyed major success over two albums with the supergroup Velvet Revolver and eventually put together another solo band featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators that remains active putting out records to this day.
But many fans longed for the Appetite for Destruction-era Guns N’ Roses band, and by 2016, they got as close to it as they were going to get. Slash and Duff McKagan rejoined Rose in a reconfigured Guns N’ Roses lineup that still featured some players from the Chinese Democracy era. That iteration went out on the road in 2016 as part of the “Not in This Lifetime” tour and they’ve continued to tour in the years since.
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