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Characteristics of hat makers

Discussion in 'Hats' started by SgtRick, May 3, 2011.

  1. SgtRick

    SgtRick One of the Regulars

    Being I consider myself to be fairly new to this hobby if you want to call it that, I would like to know how can you tell one hat maker from another. I have no problem telling the different styles a part but what separates a Dobbs from a Stetson, a Black Sheep from a Borsalino? What are you looking for or at to tell you?
    Last edited: May 4, 2011
  2. Welcome Sarge.
    To me, what separates one hatter from another is in the subtle details of their product. Factory hats will be tougher to tell apart since consolidation & mass production only allows for minor subtle differences to show up. When the old factories were around, the differences were more prevalent but no more.
    The custom hatters develop their craft over time & their "signatures" come out. They will be in felt finish, ribbon/bow treatments, & just plain "style". Like that old quality statement, I know it when I see it.
  3. facade

    facade A-List Customer

    I think the best way to look at hats is to compare them to automobile manufacturers. A car is a car and a hat is a hat. Vintage hat companies, just like automobile manufacturers, had niches. Some were luxury brands (Cavanagh, Knox etc.) and some were bargain brands (Portis, Champ) and many more were mid-range brands. And just like automobile manufacturers they offered a range of hats through the price points. So you can't say a Cavanagh hat is always better than a Champ hat. The average Cavanagh hat may be better than the average Champ hat but even the lower tier manufacturers made great high end hats. Further the issue is clouded by the period in which the hat was manufactured. All major US hat companies have failed and are now simply brand names owned by a one corporation. A modern Stetson has nothing in common with a 1940's Stetson except the shared name. The quality of the average modern hat is far below the quality of the average vintage hat and hat quality has been in decline for decades. So you can't just look at a brand name of a hat and be assured of a certain level of quality. You must also take into account the timeframe in which it was manufactured, its characteristics, and its original price. And nothing beats a hands on examination of the quality of the hat itself.

    The other option is custom made hats (Black Sheep Hat Works, Vintage Silhouettes, etc.). These hats are going to be of much better quality then an off the rack hat. However the difference in materials used between custom hatters is generally not that great due to the limited sources for the raw materials (hat bodies, ribbons etc.). The main difference is the skill, artistry and care of the individual hatter. You are likely to receive a terrific hat provided you are dealing with an experienced hatter and take care to ensure the hatter is aware of your wants and needs.
    Last edited: May 3, 2011
  4. fmw

    fmw One Too Many

    I, for one, wouldn't be willing to say this in this manner. The average modern hat is made of wool felt so it wouldn't compare favorably at all with the fur felts of old or modern fur felts either. If you were to narrow modern hats to fur felt hats then it would be accurate to say that there hasn't been any improvement in production hats in modern years. It might even be accurate to say that the best hats of yesteryear were better than the best hats of today. One could even say that on average, hats were better decades ago. but I think to say "far below the quality" is hyperbole. The $150 and up hats made today are, in my own limited experience, pretty comparable to good hats made decades ago - maybe not the best ones but good ones. At least that is true of the hats I've owned and used. Mine is a minority opinion but I guess I feel the need to state it every now and then.

    The higher end customs of today are likely better than virtually anything ever made in a factory by anyone at any time in history. I'm talking about beaver hats from the handful of top name custom hatters and these hats are very expensive. I'm sure this is also true of custom hats made in bygone times as well.

    In the Western hat business, I think they make better factory hats today than they did years ago. The high end Western hats are just plain better finished than the high end Western hats of 50 or 60 years ago. Yes, they can be quite expensive.

    The only point I'm trying to make is that it is perfectly possible to buy an excellent hat that is brand new. I have several of them.
  5. SgtRick

    SgtRick One of the Regulars

    Thanks for all the great answers. I have a couple hats I have ordered and will enjoy them upon my return to the states. I know there are lots of things to look at when considering a hat. I have a Borsalino Giorgio and an Akubra Stylemaster ordered. I am gambling on the fit I know but I can always exchange them when I get home.
  6. 1961MJS

    1961MJS Call Me a Cab


    Most hat-makers buy felted blanks from Winchester TN or from another supplier (anybody got names?). If there are a limited number of suppliers, it makes since to assume that the felt in most hats is the same stuff UNLESS Winchester etc take some kind of special order. The quality of the hat is to a large (how large is arguable) extent based on the quality of the felt right? I understand that Stetson manufactures their own felt.

    Feel free to rip this to shreds, this is what I've worked out on my own from this site and other places.


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