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Discussion in 'Hats' started by univibe88, Mar 7, 2008.
How 'bout spaces between 'graphs? Any easier on dem old eyes?
The attention to detail on some custom hats is superior to vintage; the felt is not, sadly.
Although I like my fluffs very much, this was a very informative thread for me. Thanks.
You'd better be careful, you may go home with fewer hats.
I'd like to get a bit more of your take on this, Joel. As you see it, the new custom felt isn't superior to vintage, but is it appreciably inferior? On a par? Or not even close?
I suppose we ought to identify (as best we can) the attributes of various fur felts -- what it is that makes one felt better than another. To my ears, the definitions generally sound more than a bit nebulous and subjective. I hear talk about "density" and "texture," and I often have a sense of what the opinion-offerer is getting at, but so much of that stuff seems nearly impossible to measure in any reliable, unbiased way.
Even so, there is still little doubt that some felt looks and feels superior to other felt. And there are some things that are anything but nebulous. A tapered hat that was once straight-sided, or a dimpled, rumpled hat (that is, a dimpled, rumpled hat hasn't been repeatedly sat upon by the big fat lady of song), is an indication of inferior felt. And some felt seems durable enough but has a lousy "hand." It just doesn't feel right.
So, how is it that some felts have those better qualities and some don't? What is it? Fur composition (what sort of critter gave it up) has a lot to do with it, for sure. What about the felting process? What do we know about that? Cursory research discloses that the use of mercury (for what was called "carroting") has been banned in the U.S. since the late 1930s. Yet, many (most?) of us here would argue that felt from well into the 1950s is superior to most of what was made more recently. So what else goes into a felting process that might account for that?
Those other things Joel alluded to (the "attention to detail") are easier to define and verify. Some work is clean, and some is sloppy, and the difference can be quite apparent. And a quality leather sweatband is readily enough distinguished from a cheap sweatband. Ribbon quality is generally less easy to get one's brain (and vocabulary) around.
tonyb, you are a sight for sore eyes!
As to your 2 questions. yes to both.
And your last post was expertly executed.
Bravo: :eusa_clap :eusa_clap :eusa_clap
(in a sorta loud stage whisper: now if i could only understand what this youngster is saying)
Youngster? Don't I wish! (Nah, I really don't wish for that. I would just as soon have been spared the losses I've suffered over the years, but other than that, I don't object to being -- how shall we put this? -- middle-aged. My felting process "died" quite some time ago. I'm better than new now.)
Dilemma: Modern Customs vs Vintage?
Solution: Buy modern custom hats form Vintage Silhouettes.
You have all the keywords there
I think density and texture, in terms of hat felt, isn't so hard to nail down. Some felts are far more porous, for want of a better word, while others make one wonder how they got a needle through it. Have a look at an Akubra that's gone fuzz next to the Royal Stetson I know Joel has and likes, and the difference is Garbo and Phillis Diller.
Fur content (rabbit vs nutria vs beaver vs sheep) as well as where on the animal the fur came from (belly, back) and the climate the animal was fetched up in, are also major determinants of the ultimate quality of the final hat.
I don't agree, personally, that rumpled or dimpled has anything to do with quality. The most stubbornly rumpled and dimpled hat I ever owned (and sold on) was a very, very lovely late '40's Borsalino. It had simply given up every bit of stiffener and couldn't be tamed. The felt itself, however, was quite fine.
The finest hat and finest felt (in the best colors ever) you'll ever see was a Borsalino previously owned by Matt Deckard, and now owned by a reprehensible scoundrel.
(I keep mentioning Borsalino, but don't take that to mean I think they are the gold standard, as I don't know if they are or not. They certainly aren't in the top ten right now)
I have a handful of nice vintage lids but no customs. Every time I see one of Art's Hats, I just drool. Perhaps one day I will treat myself to a VS but the cost is holding me back right now. I typically spend between $25-$65 for good vintage hats in the auction market (I am usually very picky about bidding only on vintage hats that are described as mint, or NOS condition) and I'd say that currently my entire collection cost about as much as a single VS. That's the only thing holding me back from pulling the trigger on one. But man, I really like the idea of choosing all the details of a custom.
You really do need to go spoil yourself. There is something special about a bespoke hat, it's almost mystical!
If you're a smaller size, 6 7/8 - 7 1/4, the availability of high quality vintage hats at very reasonable prices is much greater. Once you hit 7 3/8 you really have to start paying through the nose for the best vintage. Add in the risk and you end up talking to Art on the phone.
I have been happily avoiding this thread... but what the heck.
The vintage hat is extinct, like the dodo.
Back in the days of yore, a man with some dough
could choose between a dense, soft Cavanagh with its
rich, wide sweatband and felted edge. He could consider
an unreasonably light and airy Borsalino with its
strangely dry, crisp felt that held its
shape for decades to the tiniest detail, radiating Italian style
in its every detail, from their clever "corrugation" to keep
sweat off the ribbon to the jaunty bow and subtle colors.
Stetson offered a wide line of hats, covering just about
all needs, colors, and variation, all sturdy and some finer
in every detail than you can find today. Towns had their
own custom or "benchmade" hats from local hatters.
In the day, there were suppliers to support these businesses.
A choice of fine roan sweatbands, silk grosgrain ribbons, and,
of course, felt, for those who did not make their own signature
product (as so many did). As a result, the variety was stunning,
as is still reflected today in vintage hats.
Finally, as we look back we can see the design aesthetics
of decades. Decades, I should say, that prized a level of
design we rarely see today. So when we buy a vintage hat
we buy also the advantages of a mature industry and economy
of scale that as far as I know does not exist today. We are
offered a tiny window into a different time and state of mind.
Today most of the custom hats we talk about are made from
felt produced by one felter: Winchester. They make good felt.
But they are just one producer and there are things they
refuse to do (Hi Brad!).
All that said, for all the incredibly fine vintage hats I own, I did
order a VS hat for myself and one for a friend. It's not the be-all
and end-all of hats and I did not make a bonfire of Borsalinos,
Stetson clear beavers, and Cavanagh fedoras when it arrived.
But it's a very nice hat and it fits me well. I recognize that Art
is a superb craftsman and he understands colors in a way that
just plain makes me feel dumb. He also gets Winchester to widen
their felt selection just a little bit for his hats.
I don't think Art (or he and all the
current custom makers) are trying to be better than all the hatters
of the Golden Era. But they make a good product well worth
the price and worth wearing. They are different from the vintage,
but it's a nice bit of variety. I like the aesthetic of the Golden Era
and I respect and support talented craftsmen working today. The
solution, if you share my interests, is both carefully chosen
vintage and today's custom.
Too bad about production hats these days.
Maybe there's a better word than rumpled for what I'm attempting to convey here. I happen to have a velour-finish Peschel with very little if any stiffener in the felt. Seriously, a stiff breeze could change the shape of its crown. But it's very easy to smooth it out again and give it whatever shape I want.
And then I have a fairly modern (10 or 12 years old, I suppose) Biltmore of a Stetson Open Road style. It looked quite nice when new, but exposure to the wet weather out here soon left it with more dimples and waves than a roomful of kindergarten kids. And it's easy to spot where it has been folded over on itself by being sat upon, say, or having had a heavy coat thrown over it for the duration of a party. It just hasn't held up for a darn. (Oh, and the crown tapered, too. Imagine that.)
You know how the wine connoisseurs have a vocabulary that can seem a bit over the top to the uninitiated but makes perfect sense to them? (For the life of me, I don't know how people can detect citrus in something that has absolutely no citrus content, but I don't share their enthusiasm or speak their language.) Perhaps we're gradually developing a vocabulary to describe just what it is about felt that distinguishes one from another. I find myself referring to the really bad stuff as "cardboard." It doesn't readily take (or hold) a smooth curve, get it wet and it develops dimples and waves, and once it's been folded over on itself nothing short of a trip to the professional hatter for a reblock will make that crease disappear.
As if my post above weren't long-winded enough...
Karl, if you look at the many pictures of fine vintage
hats posted here and you feel the magic, you'll probably
take the risk and get yourself a few. If you're risk-averse
and want to get a great hat the first time you pull the
trigger, go with the hatter whose work agrees with your
style, be it Jimmy Pierce, Gus Miller, Art, or one of the
other fine hatters around today. All of this assumes you
have the cash to have the choice.
The choice is between apples and oranges, really. Vintage factory
hats cannot equal a hat made today custom for your melon
or vice versa.
Both will keep your head warm, provide shade, and add
style to your appearance.
Extremely well said Felty......:eusa_clap
I am glad this has started such a great discussion. Thanks for everyone's thoughts. I was leaning towards getting a custom hat, and the replies here helped me decide that it's the direction I want to go.
Art has been contacted
Anyone here have any firsthand experience with felt manufacturing? Or even reliable secondhand information? Anyone to shine some light, to get us a bit better acquainted with what steps in the process actually make one felt better than another? Besides the fur content, I mean.
I've seen a photo essay on the subject, which left me with a basic understanding of how it's done. But it's akin to my understanding of, say, corn cultivation. Put a seed in the dirt and see to it it gets enough water. How many bushels you figure that'll get me?
But I did find this ...
... if you feel like learning a thing or two about how it was done back in the late 19th century
^Thanks for that link. I'll stick it in the stickied important threads post.
It would be nice to see things progress to the point where someone would actually do a Cavanagh edge again, although I can see the limitations there. You would basically have to do a limited edition run of them, perhaps that was already subscribed/sold so you would know what size felts you would need.