I Need a New Hat Maker

Since 2009, I’ve been a customer of Optimo Hats in Chicago. I have two of their Monticristi Panama hats and a fur felt. Excellent hats they all are. And, for quite some time, I’ve been eager to add a custom Milan straw to that collection.

After languishing on Optimo’s waiting list for a year and a half, I contacted the company, and their response was this:  in my general size range, a waiting period of up to three years is likely for the Milan straws.

I simply cannot fathom running a business with the expectation that customers wait up to three years for your product.

So, I’m hoping our readers can help me as I strive to find a new hat maker, one who specializes more in classic hats (fedoras, homburgs, porkpies, etc) than in Western wear. I’m willing to travel (in the United States, of course) for an initial fitting.

I’ve heard good things about Art Fawcett in Oregon. I’ve also, through the Instagram grapevine, heard about the Wellema Hat Co.

So, dear readers, what other custom hat makers in the United States should I consider?

New Hamilton Shirts

I’ve been neglectful.

Over the past decade, my custom shirt purchases have been heavily weighted toward spread collar, French cuff shirts. That means the few button down shirts I’ve invested in have gotten a pretty heavy workout, particularly as my tastes have gravitated toward a slightly more relaxed look.

I’ve been working to rectify that, by concentrating my custom shirt purchases on button down collars. Still, two button downs recently bit the dust, one with cuffs fraying beyond wearability and the other sustaining a rip from moving a piece of art.

So, off to Hamilton Shirts, my Houston custom shirtmaker, I went for replacements. Hamilton is replete with fabrics of many different patterns and hues, although their oxford cloth selection is a little thinner than I’d prefer.

Still, I was able to find two oxford cloth fabrics to my liking. One is white with a narrower navy stripe. The other is an aqua/cream plaid. Both are outstanding, particularly in the execution of the collar, which seems a bit more robust than Hamilton’s previous but still excellent button down collars.

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When Indeed, L.L. Bean

A few weeks ago, on YouTube, L.L. Bean came out with a new ad.

In this video, it poses an interesting tandem of questions: “When did we stop valuing things that get better over time? When did disposable become our default?”

Well, L.L. Bean, we have an answer.

It was about the time when companies like L.L. Bean started outsourcing in earnest. When those companies curtailed their investment in American workers, American communities and American prosperity. When greed and corporate profit became an all-consuming pursuit, to the detriment of good corporate citizenship.

The video features a couple of Bean products being made: the Bean Boot (formerly the Maine Hunting Shoe) and the canvas tote.  These are two of the most prominent among the dwindling range of U.S. made products L.L. Bean sells.

Why, I wonder, did Bean not show workers in Bangladesh, in Vietnam, in China making “things that get better over time”? Are those workers (who make the overwhelming majority of Bean’s offerings) not deserving of being featured? Perhaps if we saw the conditions in which they toil, we wouldn’t be so inclined to purchase Bean’s products.

Most companies who have abdicated their American roots in such a profound way deserve to find themselves relegated to the graveyard of corporate history, to be replaced by companies who have, all along, maintained an unwavering commitment to American production. The Western Mountaineerings, the High Cottons, the Nanette Lapores and the New England Shirt Companies of this world.

But L.L. Bean presents an interesting case.

All of us who have an affinity for classic American style know that L.L. Bean is one of the foundational suppliers of that look. Those of us who embrace the twin values of American style and American manufacturing have a vested interest in seeing L.L. Bean reformed.

But after this much time, can the genie of outsourcing be put back in the bottle? Over the past few years, Bean has occasionally dipped its toe back into the waters of American manufacturing. Sterlingwear pea coats. New England Shirt Company shirts. New Balance running shoes.

But these represent a small fraction of Bean’s total product line. And they appear to be only intermittent in their availability.

I’ve recently purchased khaki trousers from Jack Donnelly, a chamois shirt from Criquet Shirts, a pair of penny loafers from Rancourt and a sports shirt from the New England Shirt Company. A generation ago, I would have considered Bean for each of those items. But no longer–and never again until Bean brings production of said items back to these shores.

Vintage Stetson Advertisement

A few years back, I acquired this vintage advertisement for Stetson Hats. Like much advertising for commercial products during the second World War, it had the added benefit of promoting a certain aspect of the war effort–in this case the imperative to avoid divulging potentially damaging military secrets.

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It’s a bit of clever promotion. But it’s also an excellent example of design. One day soon, I’m going to have it framed, along with a few other vintage Stetson advertisements I have.

Ben Douglas Clothing Co.: A Kickstarter Campaign

A couple of months back, we pledged our support for the Kirrin Finch Kickstarter campaign. It was our first foray into the world of crowd funded clothing manufacturing.

Now, a new Kickstarter campaign has caught our attention. Ben Douglas Clothing Co. has come out with a line of made in New Jersey dress shirts that are as unique as anything we’ve come across recently. Their offerings include the classic unlined button down collar. But they also include shirts with detachable spread and cutaway collars. Aside from New & Lingwood in England, we know of no other shirt maker who still offers detachable collars.

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A Ben Douglas shirt with detachable collar

Once upon a time, principally before the advent of the automatic washing machine, the detachable collar was the default for all dress shirts. It allowed the collar (which received the most wear, owing to its proximity to the skin) to be laundered more often than the body of the shirt, saving time and wear.

Legend has it that the stiff, detachable collar was invented by Troy, New York housewife Hannah Montague. One day, in a fit of pique over having to wash the entire shirt when only her husband’s collar was soiled, she detached his shirt collars and laundered them separately.

Troy soon became the epicenter for production of the stiff collars, turning out millions of them each year.

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Over time, the predilection for detached collars waned as men gravitated toward softer, attached versions. But as Nick Smith teaches us in Metropolitan, small details like a detachable collar are symbolically important.

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“You haven’t seen this? Detachable collar, not many people wear them anymore, they look much better. So many things which were better in the past have been abandoned for supposed convenience… It’s a small thing, but symbolically important.”

You’d think that, since I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the Ben Douglas shirts, I’d have thrown my hat into their proverbial ring. Alas, no.

If I was in the market for off the peg dress shirts, I would definitely give these a try. But Hamilton has all my shirting needs met for the foreseeable future.

However, Ben Douglas is also offering a quartet of American made repp ties (at the classic and highly desirable 3.5″ width), and we signed up for one of those. Delivery is scheduled for August, and once we have ours in hand, we’ll summarize our impressions in a blog post.

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The four repp tie options

We’ll let Ben Douglas summarize the appeal in their own words:

We set out to create a brand with soul – a brand with grit; a brand that appreciates the stories and details that inspire who we are. Ben Douglas Clothing Co. turned out to be more than a brand. It’s a living tribute to the well-dressed gentlemen who came before us. We’ve been hard at work for almost exactly a year – the designs are finished, the patterns are tweaked, and the fit perfected. Now we need your help to land the final punch.

With a pitch like that, how could we resist.

Helm Boots

Here on Classic American Style, we’ve resolved to feature only those items with which we have first hand experience–items that we’ve paid for our of our own pockets.

But in this case, we’ll make an exception.

Last month, I was at the Manready Mercantile second anniversary party. A few vendors were in attendance, showcasing their American made wares. One was Helm Boots, out of Austin, whose boots are made both in Maine and in Arkansas.

I had know about Helm for a while, but I never quite gravitated toward their aesthetic, which seemed skewed toward the blue collar end of the style spectrum.

However, one of their offerings (a boot I didn’t recognize from my previous perusal of Helm’s online catalogue) caught my eye. It had a chiseled toe that seemed more Cleverly than Red Wing. It had the kind of distinctive waist you only see in vintage shoes and in higher end English and Italian shoes. And on the outside of the boot, it had a quarter panel of Cone Mills denim.

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That last detail derailed me. Had the panel been suede, or some variant of wool tweed, the shoes would have been a slam dunk. But I’m just not a denim guy. I have one pair of dungarees, and they’re almost never worn outside the home.

So, to Helm Boots, I issue this challenge: Produce this boot with a cutout detail that caters to the more classically minded of its potential customers. The denizens of various internet style fora would surely gravitate toward such a boot.