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How do you know quality when you see it?

Pompidou

One Too Many
Messages
1,242
Location
Plainfield, CT
I've been reading the forums here for at least as many weeks as I've owned a fedora, and I've gathered that the mark of a superior hat comes down to durability. Good ones look like they're supposed to longer and under more duress than bad ones. Most of you seem to be able to see a hat and say, "This one is a good hat. It's got X, Y, and Z, and it'll take anything you can throw at it," or something to that effect. I see lots of hats, I'm mostly shopping for new ones, because I'm not a collector, but just want to look good, so why sap a limited resource? Are your estimations of quality based on name? I know fur felt is better than wool. I know beaver is better than fur felt. I've got a general idea of the go-to names for good hats - Dobbs, Christy's, Akubra, etc. What I don't know is why they're good. For example, I would be happy with a Stetson, but I believe you when you say Stetson doesn't make good hats like they used to. I couldn't tell you why. Thanks for any tips. I'd like to avoid lemons as much as I can.
 
Messages
10,524
Location
DnD Ranch, Cherokee County, GA
They call the "hand" of the felt for a reason. You have to feel really good felt then from then on "you know it when you feel it." It is thin but dense, durable but pliable, consistent over the entire hat. I know that doesn't help much... [huh]
 

Chinaski

One Too Many
Messages
1,045
Location
Orange County, CA
The other thing about quality is it depends on the intended purpose of the hat. Because rare, high-quality vintage hats are not made anymore, most guys wouldn't really put a hat like say, a vintage Stetson 100, to the durability test.

A lot of guys on the Lounge would choose Akubra for it's value - a reasonably priced, well made, durable, fur felt hat that you can really wear and not worry too much if you beat the hell out of it, because they are still being made.
 

CRH

Call Me a Cab
Messages
2,094
Location
West Branch, IA
Chinaski said:
...Because rare, high-quality vintage hats are not made anymore, most guys wouldn't really put a hat like say, a vintage Stetson 100, to the durability test.

...[/QUOTE

I'd rather have the opportunity to wear out a 100 than an Akubra any day.

I wonder how a 100 or any felt would be after a 365 day stretch...
 

Lefty

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,639
Location
O-HI-O
Pompidou said:
I've got a general idea of the go-to names for good hats - Dobbs, Christy's, Akubra, etc. What I don't know is why they're good. For example, I would be happy with a Stetson,

Stetson makes Dobbs.
 

frussell

One Too Many
Messages
1,409
Location
California Desert
GTD got it right

For me, having owned countless high-quality cowboy hats and fedoras over the last 35-40 years, I "know it when I feel it." Akubra felt (in my experience, I don't speak for others) does not feel as fine as a vintage Stetson Whippet, or one of Art's pure beaver creations, but it makes up for it by looking great, being re-bashable again and again, and by being solidly constructed. A good case in point for modern Stetson quality is my new Nostalgia. It's my favorite hat right now, because it fits well, and I love the way it looks. Felt-wise, however, it's pretty second rate. The felt gets wrinkles and ridges in it when you wet or steam it, and it just doesn't have the "hand" that beaver or vintage usually has. From a few feet away, it's a killer hat. Up close, to someone who knows their hats, it leaves something to be desired. Like somebody said on another Nostalgia thread, the felt is "loose." I have no doubt that it would not stand up to much wear and tear, so I'm enjoying it while it still looks great. On the other hand, my higher beaver content cowboy hats have stood up to re-bashing, rain, mud, cow and horse byproducts, and several headlong spills and tramplings, and always come back for more, as I'm sure my Fawcett fedora will in the future. For me, it's a question of a quick fix or a long relationship. Good luck in your hunt. Frank.
 

Mr. Paladin

My Mail is Forwarded Here
Messages
3,133
Location
North Texas
Pompidou said:
What I don't know is why they're good. For example, I would be happy with a Stetson, but I believe you when you say Stetson doesn't make good hats like they used to. I couldn't tell you why. Thanks for any tips. I'd like to avoid lemons as much as I can.


gtd is quite right about the feel or hand of felt; "thin but dense, durable but pliable, consistent over the entire hat." Modern Stetson hats catch quite a bad rap around here from some but mine have been very good in all the durability categories. While the sweatbands are not the higher quality roan leather style of many older ones, and not as comfortable initially as the Akubras' sweatband, the felt of the hats is very nice. My mink Chatham (Sovereign quality) is my most worn modern Stetson and it has developed into a very soft, buttery feel. The density or felting of the material is not quite as tight as that of my vintage Royal DeLuxe OR but it is by no means shabby! The felt of my modern Stetson Humphrey (Imperial felt) is much closer to the hand of the Royal DeLuxe OR though. I have no modern Stetsons in the standard (Royal quality) felt so I can't speak to them but a modern Stetson Sovereign quality felt hat in a velour finish is wonderful; thick, rich, luxurious. My Dexter, Dr. Knox (made by Stetson), and Hampton are fine.

Also, check out posts by avedwards regarding the repeated soakings his Chatham has received in the English climate.

(LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The opinions of this author are not necessarily the views of the staff and management and the author is in no way associated with Hatco, other than that he shops at the Outlet routinely!)
 

Chinaski

One Too Many
Messages
1,045
Location
Orange County, CA
Mr. Paladin said:
(LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The opinions of this author are not necessarily the views of the staff and management and the author is in no way associated with Hatco, other than that he shops at the Outlet routinely!)

Those lawyers in Texas must be tough customers...
 

Mr E Train

One Too Many
Messages
1,050
Location
Terminus
New in town also

Pompidou, I'm new in town as well, this being my first post and all (hey, everyone!), but I've been lurking around here for a while and I can tell you that if you keep reading through the posts you'll learn a ton from the folks around here. I know I have. There is a wealth of knowledge here...it's somewhat intimidating, actually, but from what I've seen, the people here are really nice and are just as accommodating to a hat noobie with an 80 dollar Jaxon as they are to an old hand with a collection of $500 Optimos.

Anyway, you probably won't hear much out of me because I won't have much to add to the conversation, but I'll be around, learning what I can and admiring the lids.
 

Corky

Practically Family
Messages
507
Location
West Los Angeles
The best way to learn about hats...

The best way to learn about hats is to go to a really good hat store and try on a lot of hats.

This way you can find out your correct size and get an idea of what looks good on your head.

Make a point of trying on the most expensive and finest hats in the place. The old familiar brand names like Stetson or Brooks Brothers have typically changed hands several times in recent years, so to rely on a traditional brand name as an assurance of quality is likely to be setting yourself up for a letdown.

By trying on lots of hats, you can get an idea of what GTDEAN 48 was talking about when he mentioned the hatmaker's term: Hand. Most of the hats in our discussion will be made of rabbit felt, and some will have varying amounts of beaver content, and others, the best quality, will be all beaver. It is not hard to learn to tell the better quality hats by the softness and silkiness of the felt simply by the way it feels in your hand.

I agree that the Akubra Camp Draft is a good choice. The felt is made of Australian rabbits, but it is the closest modern hat to a Stetson Open Road that you might have purchased in the USA in the 1950's.

Once you have your size and some tactile awareness of how a really good hat is supposed to feel, then you can keep your eyes open for the vintage hats that might come your way. Places where the members of this forum typically find their hats include yard sales, thrift shops, and e-bay.

Best of luck
 

mineral

One of the Regulars
Messages
136
Location
Boston, MA
Pompidou said:
I've been reading the forums here for at least as many weeks as I've owned a fedora, and I've gathered that the mark of a superior hat comes down to durability. Good ones look like they're supposed to longer and under more duress than bad ones.

I would consider fineness of construction and materials far more important factors than durability. Go buy yourself a vintage Borsalino, for instance, observe it, and then go out in the streets and observe the fedoras the trendy gentlemen are wearing. You will find, for instance, that the brim treatment of your hat is far superior. The brim on your hat would be likely more delicate and subtle, and shows a greater attention to detail by the makers. You would also likely find that the other gentleman's hat looks thick and stiff, with a crease that looks like it was pre-formed in the factory and entirely unalterable.
 

elvisroe

A-List Customer
Messages
319
Location
Sydney, Australia
While most of mine are rabbit fur Akubras I do have have one beaver felt and a couple of vintage lids that don't really fit me but I just love the look and feel of the felt. My plan is to one day hand them over to a milliner and say "I want one that feels like this!".

I'm not sure if that comes down to the years of wear or the way they were made but I just love the smooth, thin pliable feel of the old ones. My Akubras look great but don't quite feel quite as good.[huh]

I think you know pretty quickly if there's something lacking in the felt. For me wool and the synthetic "traveler" blends are just too course.

I reckon the trick is to buy by reputation and of course the look, make sure the materials are ok (ie fur) and then the more you wear, the more you get a feel for it. I'm not much of an ebay shopper when it comes to hats because I like to try em on and get a real feel for them. I'll generally go back to a shop 2 or 3 times before I put down any cash. I'm not what you'd call an impulse buyer but then when you're paying $100 or so who wants to end up with a dud?

So basically...Feel some hats...Feel lots of hats.;)
 

HosManHatter

One of the Regulars
Messages
207
Location
Northern CA
Fellow hat newbie here as well but I`ve learned a lot about what a higher quality hat looks and feels like....just by looking at a variety of different headware in retail stores and pictures from assorted websites.

Most brand name vintage (40s-70s) hats were routinely of high quality so I use vintage workmanship as a reference when checking against other hats.

If you can pick up a vintage hat (fedora or other style) that`s in fairly high grade you`ll find out first hand what a well-made felt hat is like.That is what taught me the most about what quality should look and feel like.I use my vintage 60`s NEW condition Resistiol stingy brim felt fedora as a guide when judging other hats.Even factory/mass produced vintage hats were fairly close to modern "boutique" hats.

Be sure to read these formus too! I`m learning TONS!!

HMH
 

avedwards

Call Me a Cab
Messages
2,425
Location
London and Midlands, UK
Mr. Paladin said:
Also, check out posts by avedwards regarding the repeated soakings his Chatham has received in the English climate.
I sometimes get cited for Chatham references when it comes to a question of quality. My Chatham was the only hat I wore for over half a year and it served me nicely through several quite heavy downpours. However, it survived and is still wearable but it certainly looked nicer when new. The colour was more even and the brim more crisp when it came out of the box. I personally think Stetson's quality can be a bit hit and miss, hence some like Mr Paladin and myself defend it whilst others criticise it. I was lucky in getting a very good quality hat (mine has a sticker inside saying that it was quality control checked) but others may have got a not so nice hat.

To me quality depends on two things. Durability and the quality of the finishing. Durability is a matter of how dense the felt is, as a denser felt will be able to handle more. When you see a modern "loose" felt next to a dense vintage felt you will notice the difference. The quality of the finishing is how smooth the felt is, how well the stitching is done and how nice the sweatband is. There is a recent thread about someone receiving a very poorly stitched Christys hat with loose stitching on the ribbon. But when you see some of the closeup pictures in the Art Fawcett Hall of Fame thread, you can see how fine and well done the stitching is.

So quality depends on what you want the hat for. If durability matters more to you, then an Akubra may be your thing. The felt is a bit course, but the hats look nice and are very densely felted. Plus on the whole the quality seems to be quite consistant. If you want a very dressy hat then a good quality vintage hat or a custom from someone like Art Fawcett is a better idea.
 

Mr. Paladin

My Mail is Forwarded Here
Messages
3,133
Location
North Texas
Mr E Train said:
Pompidou, I'm new in town as well, this being my first post and all (hey, everyone!), but I've been lurking around here for a while and I can tell you that if you keep reading through the posts you'll learn a ton from the folks around here. I know I have. There is a wealth of knowledge here...it's somewhat intimidating, actually, but from what I've seen, the people here are really nice and are just as accommodating to a hat noobie with an 80 dollar Jaxon as they are to an old hand with a collection of $500 Optimos.

Anyway, you probably won't hear much out of me because I won't have much to add to the conversation, but I'll be around, learning what I can and admiring the lids.

Welcome Mr. Train! Post and speak up; its good to hear from everyone!
 

PabloElFlamenco

Practically Family
Messages
581
Location
near Brussels, Belgium
Corky said:
I agree that the Akubra Camp Draft is a good choice. The felt is made of Australian rabbits

Hi Corky, please accept I'm not trying to be a wise ass by saying that, in one of their videos, Akubra lay claim to their hats being made from "Domestic and Belgian rabbit and hare".

To which I'd like to comment by saying that the only rabbits I ever see over here (Belgium) are the ones in the fields, or in my neighbor's garden, cooped up for his small children. And I don't think I've ever seen a hare outside my dinner plate. Yet my small country has been referred to, over and over, for a century as supplier of quality fur felt. Go figure!

To topic: a good hat comes in many forms. There are the rather heavy cowboy hats, made of thicker felt, being sturdy things not particularly likely to go blowin' in the wind. There's the elegant French or Italian hats, made of fine, thin felt. There's luxury finishes. All are "good" hats. Some just appeal more than others. On the other side of the spectrum, there's "junk". Like my black (new) 6 x cowboy hat made by some famous boot makers...¡rubbish!

I like it (particularly) when, wearing a hat, I "drumwise" knock two fingertips on a hat-brim and it makes a clear, dry "tock tock" sound (as contrasted with a muffled "soft" sound). Now how's that for a quality factor?

Certainly, the word "finish" is important. Fine felt. Nice satin liner. Gold-lettered label. Broad leather sweatband. Then there's the word "style". What one calls style, another might find repulsive. Hats? A world!
 

Mr E Train

One Too Many
Messages
1,050
Location
Terminus
Welcome Mr. E Train! Post and speak up; its good to hear from everyone!

Thanks, Mr. Paladin! [BTW, I just pronounce it like "Mystery Train" like the Little Junior Parker & The Blue Flames song later covered by some white kid in Memphis. What was his name...] ;)

Even factory/mass produced vintage hats were fairly close to modern "boutique" hats.

HosManHatter, that's the truth and it applies to pretty much everything. I'm still a noob when it comes to hats, but one thing I do know a little about is guitars, and parallels can definitely be drawn. Take a budget Harmony or Silvertone guitar sold in a Sears & Roebuck catalog back in the 60's--they were "cheap" guitars, introductory level instruments for the most part, but they were made in the USA, finished in real lacquer (which is porous and ages nicely, becoming part of the wood), and with hardware that was built to last. The equivalent nowadays would be a guitar made out of plywood in a factory in Korea and coated with thick layers of polyurethane varnish that feels like plastic, and with hardware that falls apart after a few years. It's sort of like the difference between a fur felt fedora sold by, say, JC Penney back in the 60's, and the typical Dorfman Pacific-type generic wool hats that it would sell today.
 

donnc

One of the Regulars
Messages
173
Location
Seattle
Mr E Train said:
It's sort of like the difference between a fur felt fedora sold by, say, JC Penney back in the 60's, and the typical Dorfman Pacific-type generic wool hats that it would sell today.

Not that I would defend the latter, but it reminded me of the hat I've been wearing for the last 15, 20 years (I forget), a US made wool felt hat under that label. Soaked, folded, sat on, every kind of abuse a hat would naturally be subject to, and it barely shows a hint of it.

Wool is actually a pretty good material for hats. Not meant to dispute anything said about quality above, just saying it's possible to make a wool hat that's very good in its way, and at a relatively economical price. Adding another wrinkle to the formula for hat value.
 

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