How many custom hat shops are left?

Discussion in 'Hats' started by jdouglasj, Dec 21, 2020.

  1. jdouglasj

    jdouglasj New in Town

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    The world of custom hats shops seems quite small. When I say “custom” I don’t merely mean they have a steamer and can shape the hat the way you want. I mean a hat shop where I pick every detail of a hat. I pick the color, the material, crown height, brim length, the ribbon, even the precise shape of the hat, and so on. Stores with that contraption they put on your head to produce the card with all the holes in it outlining the shape of your head.

    In my quick search I found only six or seven shops in the country, and they all knew each other. But some people in this lounge have said there are hundreds of custom hat shops out there.
     
  2. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    There are a great many custom hatters out there that do not have a bricks and mortar presence. They do all the things you outline without a street presence. Also, there are a great many custom hatters that primarily serve the western hat market and will cross over into fedora land once in a while. So to get an exact number is difficult and varies depending on where you draw the line. The one key aspect is that most custom hatters are busy and have lengthy wait lists.
     
  3. jlee562

    jlee562 I'll Lock Up

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    What @belfastboy said.

    Even if we're only counting shops with a brick and mortar presence, it's WAY more than seven. I can name that many off the top of my head. Paul's Hat Works, Baron Hats, VS, Northwest, Heritage Hats, Peters Bros, Optimo, Wellema, Penman.

    Then we have folks like Black Sheep, Gannon, Phoenix Hats, Ally Kat, custom hatters without a brick and mortar store....

    And then there's the group that I would consider journeyman/hobbyist hatters on etsy and such. There's a whole mini ecosystem of Indiana Jones hatters (Penman/AB, Herbert Johnson, Steele & Jones, adVintage, etc)
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2020
  4. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    And then we have the European hatters that do business here in the Lounge/and on the Web. In addition to JLee's list I can think of another half dozen hatters in the USA. Canada's premier hatter Leon Drexler has stopped taking orders so we are sadly unrepresented in the world of master hatters. Yes, custom hatting is a niche business but I think we can say correctly that within that niche custom hatters are doing well; busy, long wait lists and incredible high standards of their offerings.
     

  5. Texas alone has way more than six. I also don’t think that there was ever a time when every town had a true custom hat shop. I’m in Utah for Christmas and I’m visiting three custom hat shops. I don’t know where you came up with six for the whole US.

    The contraption they put on a client’s head (conformer/Conformateur) was never used by every custom hatter even when those devices were available. I don’t see the use of a confomateur to be a defining characteristic of a good hatter.

    lots of hatters are known only locally and get all the business they can handle without advertising let alone running a web site. I don’t know how many custom hatters there are, and I don’t think it’s possible to get an accurate count of them.
     
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  6. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    The only full conformateur that I saw being used was by Greeley Hat Works at a trunk show. I always thought it more of a gimmick than a useful tool. A few of the custom hatters I have used employ a plastic equivalent that seems to work well. Art at VS used to mail them out to clients with instructions, who use them and send back to Art. But when you look at it the blocks being used by ALL hatters are the standard; regular, long and extra long ovals.....that sets the block/size. I supposed if you have an irregular shaped head and had a band block made from the shape of the conformateur it would help mould the hat's shape to your own.....eventually. But for the most part you get the general shape correct, the size correct you will receive a well fitting custom hat.
     
  7. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    Visiting Taton Baird? Salina is a cute little town (Burns Saddlery) with a good Tasty Freeze/Peach milkshakes....but not so appealing in December
     
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  8. jlee562

    jlee562 I'll Lock Up

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    ...Brass Rooster, Hatwrks, Tatton Baird, D-Bar-J, Batsakes...

    Re: conformateur, per Scientific Hat Finishing "nine tenths of all sales made require no conforming..." As I understand it, they were used mostly for stiff felts and then later adopted by custom makers.
     
  9. jdouglasj

    jdouglasj New in Town

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    I have purchased three hats from Optimo in Chicago. They will customize one of their existing hats to suit the customer, but I don't really consider them a custom hat shop. I'm sure many will disagree with me about that but let me explain why I say that. Optimo makes the hats they sell, but nearly everyone who buys an Optimo hat buys one of their hats on display. If you want Graham to modify something about it, he will do that.

    I called Graham about a hat that he didn't make, and he told me to come in. To "make" the hat I wanted he said I should select the closest matching from one of his hats on display and then he would see if he could modify it into what I wanted. But then after we looked at a couple of possibilities he said he really didn't have anything that would work. Why don't you go totally bespoke, he asked. Sure, I said, how much? He said his bespoke hats start at $3,000. I said "oh well" and went on my way.

    Vanishingly few customers would be willing to spend $3,000 for a beaver hat, and Graham said he rarely does a bespoke hat. Clearly, he is pricing it to discourage customers from taking that route.

    Next, I called Baron Hats. Baron Hats actually tried to remake the hat I wanted and had it on their website so at least they had something that could be modified. But when I talked to Mark at Baron Hats he said he no longer had the advertised hat in stock and he didn't know if he would be getting more stock. So once again, Baron hats will customize hats that have already been produced but they don't seem to make totally bespoke hats.

    So I am talking about hatters that can make anything you ask. Watson hats in AZ is one such shop. I went in with pictures. Eric spent probably an hour re-blocking one of his existing hats just to see if he could get in the ballpark of what I wanted. We were trying to answer the question, "will the hat you want actually look good on you once I make it?" I was satisfied that it would look good. Then Eric noted that the hat in the movie stills I showed him would not work on my head. And he made his recommendations on how my hat needed to differ. We looked at the remakes of the hat other manufacturers came up with, and what didn't work about those attempts. We went deep into every detail and then he measured my head with the conformer. Eric thinks the conformer can make a big difference with unusually shaped heads like mine.

    I was referred to Eric by Rand Hats in Montana. Ritch thought my hat required a pencil roll and he said given the size of my head I should call Eric because he had a particular tool for the job, which Ritch did not have. Both Ritch and Eric talked about the totally custom hat shops being very small in number. Nearly all Optimo customers walk out of the store with one of the hats sitting on their display rack, but Eric said all of his customers want custom hats. I took that to mean that he doesn't have many customers walking out with one of the display hats. So when I say small in number, I am referring to shops that make sell mostly bespoke hats.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2020
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  10. I went on your original definition: hatters that I can specify crown shape and height, brim width and brim edge treatment, felt color, ribbon and binding color, liner, sweatband color, width, etc., and other details. Hatters who custom make hats to your specifications and often don’t have any hats in stock or pre-made. There might not be hundreds, but there are a lot more than six. Not every hatter has ever tool, and that went for those in business 100 years ago as well as today. Custom hatters also specialize and that too isn’t anything new.
     

  11. I’ll stop by JW and Tatton Baird for sure. I don’t expect to order anything at JW, but I’m sure I’ll place an order at Tatton Baird...hopefully I’ll show some restraint and just get one.
     
  12. jdouglasj

    jdouglasj New in Town

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    I'm sure you know better than I, but I've been looking at a lot of the hat shop recommendations on this thread and I haven't seen one yet that deals primarily in bespoke hats.
     
  13. jlee562

    jlee562 I'll Lock Up

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    "Deals primarily in" =/= "how many custom shops are left"

    Baron being out of stock on a felt, or not wanting to pay Optimo's premium doesn't disqualify them from being bespoke makers in my mind.
     
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  14. I thought the same thing. I instantly thought of Max’s recent custom Optimo inspired by Alan’s Stack. Don’t tell Max that Optimo doesn’t make custom hats. :)
     
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  15. suitedcboy

    suitedcboy One Too Many

    Capital Hatters-Stephenville TX, Colby Hebert-New Orleans, Dorer-New Mexico, Biggars Hat co.-Dectur TX, Johnny's Custom and Mike's custom Hatters-Both in Longview TX, North Valley Hat-Salem OR, Bar None and Cowboy Up both in Denver CO, Shorty's Caboy Hattery-OKC OK. the list is bigger than you think. I can already think of more additions. As stated already, some are fedora focused and some western but I don't know of any that don't do both. There could be another list of hatters that focus on "effect" hats that are for re-enactors, single action shooters, movie fans, etc. where the hat is a re-creation of an iconic lid.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2020
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  16. What kind of hat? You want a generic recommendation: Gannon. 100% bespoke and exceptional quality at a great price.
     
  17. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    You are not looking hard enough;
    Northwest Hats
    OPTIMO
    Taton Baird
    Brass Rooster
    Bat Sakes
    Pauls
    Baron's
    These are just the ones I know that are all full hat shops specializing in bespoke hats

    Then there are the ones that make bespoke hats without a storefront
    Gannon
    Penman
    Tumwater
    AlleyKat
    Esther Weiss
    Hornskov
    Gary White
    Phoenix
    Wolfbrae
    Blacksheep
    These are just the ones I have had contact with......there are more. How many do YOU need?
     
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  18. jlee562

    jlee562 I'll Lock Up

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    Likewise, Timothy Olyphant does not buy off the rack hats from Baron (skip to 3:39):
     
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  19. suitedcboy

    suitedcboy One Too Many

    OK, what do YOU mean by "bespoke"? A truly bespoke hat to me would be a conformateur used to make a block or at least referenced to a particular hat block that maker has with similar shape within minimal shape deviation. Then there is likely a hat form made that you can use to keep the odd unique shape in the hat when not worn. I guess in this context the others who start with felt cones and make hats are making "custom" hats with you selecting color, shape, crown height, trim, liner color, and sweatband type and color. I am in no way diminishing any of those craftsmen as most will be able to use some custom created bits of their own together with their blocks to get within a very close fit to bespoke. I had one made and desribed my noggin and sent a top down picture and that hat was perfect out of the box in having uniform contact around the circumference of my head. There are people that have an irregular enough head shape that the bespoke price is the only way you get a comfortable fit with the shape of the hat staying uniform. The rest of us can get there with steam and/or hand work. I am borderline OCD or at least full-fledged picky and I have to have uniformity in brim an crown. I have an extra long oval head with a bump to the left. The brim shape on western and snap down on brim with fedoras allows me to get my preferred shape with stem and hand work. If I wanted a perfectly flat brimmed hat I would have to go bespoke so the hat is flanged with a block that is a true representation of my head. The bump and oval shaping would push brim out of flat otherwise.
    Is it fit issues or the style and color of the hat that is steering the selection of the hatter?
     

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