I don’t know about you but I have always loved hats. I love all kinds of hats: ball caps, flat caps, Panama hats, etc. However, my true passion is for the felt hats reminiscent of the 30s – early 60s. You know the ones. The ones you’d see on Bogart, Sinatra, Grant, and other fashionable men. Of course it was also the case that just about every man had such a hat and would wear it pretty much everyday. So when I started considering my new style I knew that I wanted a fur felt hat and started to do some research.
I looked at sites like JJ Hat Center and Optimo. Both of these shops are great and have a wide selection of hats with the main difference being that JJ carries pre-made hats in addition to doing custom made hats. As you browse either site you’ll see the wide array of styles. You have the Fedora, Homburg, Derby, Pork Pie, Top Hat, and the list goes on. So the first step was to decide on a style and then a color. I decide on a Fedora pretty quickly and as with most menswear decided to get a neutral grey as my first hat. Then I had to decide whether I wanted a custom hat or a pre-made.
Since I had already gotten a custom suit, I decided that I’d get a custom hat as well. I considered Optimo long and hard. Their hats look amazing and their customers rave about the hats they’ve received, but the price was just more than I was looking to spend at the time. At that point I started searching for a custom hat maker (milliner or hatter). This proved to be a much harder task than I expected. As with a lot of trades, hat making has all but disappeared. Not surprisingly I found a number that made cowboy hats, but wasn’t finding many with a broader offering. Then I came across Black Sheep Hat Works.
Black Sheep Hat Works is a one man operation run by Bob Jessee in Bremerton, Washington. Bob is a fantastic guy and was extremely helpful as I went through the process of designing my hat. I spent a number of hours looking through the styles Bob was making at the time and choose the Boardwalk (a classic fedora with C crown rather than a center dent). I decided to go with a 100% beaver fur felt and asked Bob for color samples of Charcoal, Silverbelly, Granite, and Steele and chose the Charcoal. The final choices were for the lining and ribbon. I was fortunate that Bob had some dead stock pinup cloth that he was using for linings.
I chose number two and a navy ribbon to finish off the hat.
The main thing to remember is that this is not a quick process. I placed the order and put down the deposit on October 9 after initiating discussion on August 28. The completed hat arrived on March 26. So it took about nine months but oh was it worth it.