A century ago, the hat was an indispensable part of a man’s wardrobe. A gent simply didn’t leave the house without a topper of some sort on his noggin.
Sadly, the wearing of hats is a virtually lost art. From time-to-time, I see articles prognosticating a hat-wearing renaissance. Don’t believe them. Hats will never be the universal garment they once were. Their ubiquity belongs to a bygone era. They are, today, a niche product, worn principally by men who crave a certain panache or for those who cultivate a dandyish air.
A sartorial urban legend holds that John F. Kennedy went hatless at his inauguration, putting the figurative nail in the coffin of the American hat industry. He didn’t; by the time of the Kennedy presidency, hat wearing was already on a downward trend. The counterculture of the late 1960s hastened the decline.
I’m one of the tonsorially challenged, so the hat for me is more than a stylish accompaniment. It’s a practical garment: beaver fur for warmth in winter and straw for a bit of self-created shade in the summer.
For several years, I bought most of my hats from a now defunct hatter in Houston. In June 2009, on a family vacation to Chicago, I made a pilgrimage to one of the true Meccas of custom hat making: Optimo Hats.
Walking into the store on the far South side of Chicago was like being transported to another, more genteel age. After some initial pleasantries, my head was measured, and I began the process of picking out the material for a winter fedora. I opted for a taupe beaver fur with a rolled edge.
My head is of the neither fish nor fowl variety–too narrow for a standard fit yet too wide for a long oval–making me an ideal candidate for a custom hat. The fine folks at Optimo have built my hats to accommodate that shape. In addition, they can produce hats with a sizing precision unavailable in non-custom hats.
Two Panama hats have since followed (one is pictured below). More so than just about anything I wear, my Optimo Hats are likely to elicit complements from passers-by, a true testament to the craftsmanship of one of the great American makers of custom hats.