How long do hats continue to shrink?

Discussion in 'Hats' started by Blackthorn, Aug 27, 2010.

  1. Blackthorn

    Blackthorn I'll Lock Up

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    I bought a Stetson Nostalgia last November. I was still new to hats, so I inadvertently bought it one size too large, 7 1/2. I was bummed when I got it, since it was too big, but I filled the sweatband with the usual stuff and got it to fit all right. I liked the hat a lot, every other way.

    I wore it as my every day hat at work. In January I decided to see how tough it was so I wore it in a rain storm and got it soaked, big time. Lo and behold, after the soaking, it fit perfectly. I was delighted. Now as I wear it in summer weather on hikes, etc, it is getting a bit tight. I have seen the hat stretchers for sale and always wondered why there was a market for them, but now I'm starting to understand that some hats need to be kept in size. Now I'm also beginning to understand why so many vintage hats are smaller than their listed size...they shrunk over time.

    My Akubra Fed IV in Imperial grade has done the same thing over the last year. It has shrunk a whole size.

    At what point do they stop shrinking? A year? Two? Many?
     
  2. BanjoMerlin

    BanjoMerlin A-List Customer

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    They stop shrinking when they get too small to wear. Once the hat has been consigned to the back of the closet and is no longer going through cycles of wet/dry it will stop shrinking (unless the humidity varies a lot during a day). Even the little moisture from sweat is enough to cause a tiny bit of shrinkage which is compounded over time until you notice it when the hat is no longer comfortable.

    I always plop a hat on a stretcher set to my head size after it has been worn for longer than a few minutes so it won't shrink while it dries.
     
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  3. Atticus Finch

    Atticus Finch Call Me a Cab

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    I am far from being an expert on hats, but I would guess that many variables affect hat shrinkage...long-term exposure to heat and moisture being at the top of the list. I'm also guessing that the kind of leather used to make the sweat band would be large factor in how much and for how long the hat will shrink.

    One thing is for sure, though...they do shrink. Size 7 5/8 is a loose fit on me if I buy a new hat. But when I buy vintage, I look for 7 3/4...and even that huge size often needs a bit of stretching. :eek:

    AF
     
  4. danofarlington

    danofarlington My Mail is Forwarded Here

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    On the other hand, I just bought a vintage Borsalino that must date back to the late 50s or early 60s, at a size too big, and it's still a size too big.
     
  5. BanjoMerlin

    BanjoMerlin A-List Customer

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    Natural fiber ribbons tend to shrink a lot, often a size or more, but they do reach a point where they stop shrinking in a fairly short time.

    Leather sweatbands can shrink but that isn't usually much of a problem until they get so dried-out that they start to crack.

    Fur felt shrinks and can continue to shrink for a long time. The higher quality more tightly felted material shrinks less than a more loosely felted material.
     
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  6. CircuitRider

    CircuitRider One of the Regulars

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    Shrinkage?-Just be sure to keep it out of the pool!lol
     
  7. SALMAGUNDI

    SALMAGUNDI Vendor

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    Time is not as relevant as the temp or moisture from day to day. Usually it will shrink up to two sizes but that depends on how much water and heat it is exposed to.
    Hats without leather sweats will also shrink when your sweat is soaked in them and then having the exposed to heat. Lots of salt in the sweat makes for some good shrinkage.
    There are some home remedies to keep the hat the size you want.
    The Nostalgia is a nice hat, and it's tough. If you have a nice hat I always recommend having a hat jack for this type of thing. A brush is another must - one for your darker hats and one for your lighter hats so you can keep the hat in good condition with a little TLC each day.
    To stretch the hat back to your size; jack it a little with a hat jack, but while doing so steam it and work inside the two sides of the hat in between cranking the jack with the back of your hands. You'll feel the hat stretch - just be sure to not stretch it too much. Good think about shrinkage is that you should always be able to get the hat back to its original size to which it was blocked.
    If it's a little tight when you get it new, depending on what it's made of, you should be able to stretch it a size too. You will definitely need to jack it from time to time to keep it that way though.
    If you have no steamer use a steam iron as your source of steam when stretching. Blow bursts on the trim as well to give it some give, and always watch the stiching on the bow if there is one to make sure it doesn't bust.
    If you stretch it too much use a hair dryer after steaming on the same sides you worked and dry it out. It should come back down a bit.
    Don't be afraid to try and work it. Nothing is more of a bummer than having your hat too tight if it keeps getting smaller...
     
  8. CircuitRider

    CircuitRider One of the Regulars

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    I also found that brushing some "hydrolac" or other stiffener around inside of headband before doing what you mentioned will help hold it in place. I periodically do this to some of them when rebashing, etc.
     
  9. AlterEgo

    AlterEgo A-List Customer

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    This topic often comes up here, and it always makes me go "hmmm," because none of my fur felts have ever shrunk over a half size despite that I perspire profusely, routinely wear them in the rain, have had some of them for many years, and never use any kind of stretcher.

    Akubras are sized a half size large to take this shrinkage into account, so they're too big when new but fairly quickly shrink down true to size if you wear them regularly, yet they do not continue to shrink ad infinitum . That's true of all its fur felt hats but the premium Heritage grade, which I've found shrinks hardly at all, so order those a half size smaller than your usual size or resign to accepting felt beneath the sweat as a permanent alteration.

    I wound up with my deceased Dad and Granddad's old Dobbs and Churchill hats, lovely lids from the '50s and '60s, if a bit stingy of brim. I'd love to wear them occasionally, though, but they both wore 7 1/4 and remain too big in spite of my repeated attempts to shrink them. )They're still too loose with felt 360 degrees beneath the sweats.)

    Now when it comes to canvas hats, that's can be a whole other story:

    I had a cotton camouflage Aussie bush hat I wore constantly when I was a little kid, and it shrank and shrank and shrank until it finally fit a little shrunken human head Grand acquired in the Phillipines during the War and later gave me! It's obviously Japanese, and apparently a headhunter took the prize from one of the the hated invading soldiers. How fitting--a shrunken hat for a shrunken head--and it really looks quite sporty atop his understandably frowning face there on the shelf in the den.

    Just recently, I hand-washed a U.S. Army Hat, Jungle, Type II. It was a 7 1/2, but I liked it that big to fit loosely over a folded bandana sweatband, as I wore it for hot weather yard work. Even though I washed it exactly according to the directions on the label, it shrunk down to I'd say barely a 7!

    The same day, I hand-washed my cotton duck Tilley--a much better hat-- per its instructions, and it shrank hardly at all, despite that I pressed it with a steaming iron to try to get the wrinkles out and give it a modicum of style. (That helped a bit, but still no one would call this a stylish hat.)

    I have a theory that some people must have chemicals in their sweat that causes hats to shrink more than other's perpiration. It's not salt, because I have so much it my sweat that it leaves a visible, grainy residue after hard work or exercise.
     
  10. rlk

    rlk I'll Lock Up

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    I find a similar problem with knit or tweed caps. Just sitting over the summer they seem to lose over a size and require stretching before Fall/Winter use. I had a Harris Tweed that lost two sizes so that I just gave it away. Felts do seem to have the capacity to lose nearly two sizes if you subject them to ideal conditions for shrinkage(get it damp, then store under dry warm conditions for a prolonged period). I've had a Stetson and a Cavanagh that could not return to their original tagged size without a re-block(mere stretching inadequate).
     
  11. BanjoMerlin

    BanjoMerlin A-List Customer

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    Sounds like they went unworn long enough to stop shrinking. Probably need to replace the sweatbands and refit the ribbons in order to get them down to size.
     
  12. Blackthorn

    Blackthorn I'll Lock Up

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    Oh sure, NOW you tell me. :eek:
     
  13. Woodfluter

    Woodfluter Practically Family

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    BanjoMerlin and AlterEgo experiences fit mine, pretty much.

    I haven't encountered "quality" vintage hats that have shrunk much. One or two of mine, yes a vert little. Maybe been around long enough to get past all that or were stretched, but I'm still a little skeptical.

    I know, there's fantastic hatmakers here that know their stuff and are assured by the felt body suppliers that nothing has changed, and believe the felt just ages and becomes stable with time, but then...

    (1) I look at the way they respond in old movies, when the hats were new; how easily they dent and spring back, and

    (2) I remember being amazed by the texture of dress hats (not all that old then) when I was very young, late 1950's-early 1960's, and I don't see that in even the few custom beaver ones I've handled. But the best of the old ones are what I remember from back then.

    I still think there was a difference in materials (the fur) or processing or maybe some unwritten mojo the old dead hatmakers put into them.

    But, I haven't gotten any shrinkage on the Heritage felt Akubras so far.

    - Bill
     
  14. rlk

    rlk I'll Lock Up

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    I have to disagree with most of this. As said above I have had hats of over 50 years of age of fine quality shrink up to two sizes(not hyperbole--one in never worn condition) and find nearly every Borsalino or Stetson of age is at least 1/2 size under its tag. Basic Royal Stetson Quality and Lee, Portis, Champ, Adam etc are most likely pure Rabbit and of a mediocre quality on an objective fur examination. They look fine and behave decently. The finer modern hats are much better than those. Few vintage hats approached 100% Beaver unless specified. The hats of higher quality (10, 20 ,50 100) are clearly finer than the run of the mill basic economy hats of the day. Only these approach the better modern custom hatters. Beavers, Hares, Rabbits etc are still the same species. Mercury was banned in 1941 and was used on the pelt(and not on the lightest colors even when legal). Nothing has changed but the labor force. Certain specialized mechanical skills gained through training and repetition may have been lost(or specialized machinery). I personally have "felt" modern hats superior to all but the finest vintage examples and much better than the average of any era.
     
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  15. Dewhurst

    Dewhurst Practically Family

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    Hat shrinkage is supremely annoying. I have hats that refuse to shrink at all, others that shrink only just, and still others that have, given enough years, changed by multiple sizes. Predicting which will do which is a fruitless exercise.

    About a year... err... maybe it was two... anyway, I started buying all of my hats one size too large on purpose. I resigned myself to filling them out, and waiting for them to tighten up slightly. Being an exact hat size is unfortunate, in my experience.

    I feel for you Blackthorn, I really do. Theoretically, there is a limit to the shrinkage of various materials, but consistency is not to be found. Some people swear by a hat jack placed inside the hat during off seasons. I have mixed results there: the jack usually misshapes the hat. My head is not shaped like a jack, and it usually takes considerable time to get it back to my decidedly NOT long oval shape.

    Again, I feel for you.

    Oh, my advice: stop sweating or going outside. Impossible? We're all in this together.
     
  16. Blackthorn

    Blackthorn I'll Lock Up

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    Not sure if it's relevant, Dewhurst, but how many hats are you thinking of? I'm just wondering how large the sample size is.
    Thank you, Dewhurst, i appreciate that, I truly do. I can sense that it is heartfelt.

    Just out of curiosity, Dewhurst, what brands have you tried? Just wondering, since this has got me started thinking on getting a hat jack.


    Again, I appreciate that, I truly do.


    Stop going outside? I'll think about that...ok, not really. :D
     
  17. BanjoMerlin

    BanjoMerlin A-List Customer

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    Location:
    New Hampshire, USA
    I think the amount of processing time a hat goes/went through is the big factor on shrinkage. Felt shrinkage is a big part of the hatmaking process. If the hatter ironed just enough, there was still room for the felt to continue shrinking. If the hatter spent more time and effort the hat ended up with much more tightly packed felt and there was less opportunity for shrinkage.

    I have vintage hats that were low priced and have shrunk more than two sizes. I have other vintage hats that were highest quality and have not shrunk even though they were obviously worn a lot.

    I do agree that many of the current hatmakers are doing much better work than was the norm back in the day but I don't have a lot of experience with vintage hats that were made by individual craftsmen. Most of mine were "factory" hats (Stetson, Dobbs, Champ, Adam, Resistol, etc.) and I find them to be, for the most part, a better value than modern "factory" hats. I have a '50s 3X Beaver Stetson Open Road that is MUCH better than any modern hat I could buy for the $44.00 that OR cost.
     
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  18. Lefty

    Lefty I'll Lock Up

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    If the universe is expanding, aren't all hats shrinking?
     
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  19. AlterEgo

    AlterEgo A-List Customer

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    I've a new theory as to why my own personal fur felt hats have never shrunk more than a half size:

    Though I've relocated several times for jobs, I've never lived anywere that it's not pretty humid year-round. Since my hats have not gone through humid-arid, arid-humid cycles, they've not been exposed to conditions that would dramatically shrink them. Sound good?

    I still prefer the theory about mysterious chemicals in perspiration being the culprits.
     
  20. Dewhurst

    Dewhurst Practically Family

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    Location:
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    The number of hats I am specifically referring to would be exactly 14 in number. Those are only the ones I kept for any length of time. Others move in and out of my hands rather quickly. Sent an Akubra back immediately, for example and so I can't say on that brand.

    What brands of hat jack? I have only tried the common one that you see being massively produced and then re-branded by most any store that offers a selection of hats. Or do you mean which brands of hat have I tried jacking? That would be Dobbs, Biltmore, and Stefano. You've got mostly Stetson's it seems, but I have yet to own one of those, and so I can't really say anything useful about the great American hat brand. (Honest, Stetson is next on my list of hats to get, it really is.)

    :)
     

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