Optimo bespoke felt hat: Review

Monday, February 18th 2019
Share
||- Begin Content -||

I'm not sure whether it came across, but I was almost surprised by how much I liked the Optimo hats I saw in New York last October.

It was the first time I had seen them first hand, and the felt was noticeably different from what I had seen at other makers. It was supple yet tough, with a sharp line yet soft to the touch.

When you've covered most of the major producers in an area, this kind of difference is rare. Differentiation is more usually about small aspects of finishing, fit or service.

Optimo had those as well - I particularly liked the fact Graham didn't allow people to buy ready-made hats online, or even to try them on in the shop without supervision - but the product was also pleasingly different.

The hat I ordered, which was received just before Christmas and is pictured here, did not disappoint.

Of course, I knew what that felt was going to be like. But it creates a new level of appreciation when you wear it, day in and day out.

The hat was rained on heavily, a couple of times, yet retained its shape perfectly once it had dried. In fact, as Graham had said, that moulded it better to the shape of my head.

Moulding like this is common to most felts, but some - like my Lock & Co Voyager, for example - can also lose their shape along the way.

Now the Voyager is a thin, unlined felt, designed to be more casual and rollable. But even thicker felts I've had from the likes of Bates or Anderson & Sheppard haven't reacted that well.

The biggest reason is the Optimo hat is made from top-end beaver felt, where the others are mostly rabbit or hare.

And of course, you pay for that: an Optimo hat starts at around $800 whereas Lock ones start at £295. But, Lock does also do beaver/mink hats at £695, and they didn't feel as nice to me.

If the Optimo felt was a case of getting exactly what I expected, the biggest surprise was the feel of the sweatband.

This might seem like a small detail, but the sweatband is in constant contact with your head, so it is the part you feel most.

The Optimo band is made from a plump veg-dyed leather, which feels lovely on the head and also moulds over a few wears. It's the thing I now notice most when I switch from the Optimo to another hat.

 

 

The fit of the hat was good, but it could have been a better longer oval shape.

My head is what is known as a long oval, which is slightly harder to fit for than a more regular, shorter oval.

It's the reason I often find it hard to get hats to fit (they're either too big and have gaps at the sides, or too small and buckle at the sides).

The Optimo was good, but not perfect - there is still some gapping at the sides. It's something I'll show to Graham when he's here this week for the pop-up, and he will take back to Chicago to correct.

Of course, this does illustrate the problem with using an overseas hatmaker. Corrections like these are not easy to arrange - although Graham does offer consultations online over video.

I would probably have tried that if he wasn't going to be in London anyway.

I was also pleased with the overall shape of the hat, which had a more tapered crown than Optimo's standard ready-made hats.

A good hat should echo the shape of the rest of the head (see post illustrating that here).

As my head is long and fairly narrow, the crown can be tall but it also needs to taper towards the top, or it will look too big.

These pictures hopefully illustrate how that shape works. The full-length shots also show how I can get away with a slightly larger brim width, I think, because of my height.

Not getting these proportions right is the major reason most men think they don't suit a hat. Every hat isn't going to flatter your face, just as every jacket won't flatter your body.

Interestingly, I also don't think men give enough consideration to the proportions of the rest of the outfit.

A hat looks more normal with an overcoat and scarf both because they're defences against the weather, and because they all add bulk to the body. Wear the same hat with just a jacket, and it can look too big.

This might seem like overthinking the subject, but I do think it's worth trying for guys that think hats don't suit them. Wear an overcoat, and a scarf, and pop the collar of the coat. Everything might suddenly seem more proportionate.

I like the colour of this felt - which actually has shades of brown in it - but the hatband was the wrong choice.

I've commented before when having a hat made by Stephen Temkin that a hatband can radically change your impression of a felt's colour. It's freakish.

And this felt looked very different in New York with a dark-brown band. I picked charcoal instead, and that was wrong. It makes the hat too dark and formal. I'll ask Graham to switch it back to brown.

I do like the design of the band though, which can easily go unnoticed. Rather than have the normal bow on the side, it merely has a circle of silk that gathers the band together (shown above). A less showy and dressy look, perhaps.

The lining is a beautiful gold, and the hat comes in a nice black, thick-card hat box. The kind you want to put on display.

It's what you'd expect for your money, but it's good to see Optimo is considered enough to have taken care of these details. Tailors and their cheap hangers or suit bags, take note.

The overcoat pictured is my navy cashmere from Cifonelli.

This is probably my favourite thing I've ever had made bespoke at this point, and even though it's showing no signs of wear, I still worry about how much I use it. I love it so much.

The shirt is a pink stripe from 100 Hands, and the tie a black grenadine from Drake's. I increasingly wear black knitted or grenadine ties, but only with very dark colours elsewhere. It's particularly nice with deep, muddy browns and greens.

The suit is my charcoal-flannel from Sartoria Vestrucci, and the bag from Dunhill.

The shoes are from Mori, an interesting start-up that's making bespoke-quality shoes in China. More on them in a few weeks.

Optimo, of course, are in London for the first time this week - from Tuesday to Saturday, in our pop-up shop at 37 Savile Row.

If you want to talk to Graham about hats (whether actually planning to buy or not) I suggest you get in contact with him to arrange an appointment. He is [email protected]

You can read more on the background to Optimo, and their shop and factory in Chicago, here.

Optimo.com

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

What to learn more about how Permanent Style is funded? Read here: 'Is this an ad?'

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
83 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anonymous

About as smart an outfit as I have seen! So true about an overcoat as well.
Can’t find anything online about Mori? Spelt correctly?

Winfried

Hi Simon, looks really great especially because of the wide brim. Unfortunately I can´t make it to London this week – but hopefully Graham will show up again. Do you think a navy hatband would give a good style as well?

Peter O

1. Do you know what color and shapes of hats are worn by Jews?
2. Do you know the famous hat shop in Israel which specializes in the various kinds of hats which various groups of Judaism demand?
3. Have you asked Graham if he has special orders for certain hats by Jews, and if so, what specifications?

Joel

Hi Peter,

Are you specifically after a “Jewish” hat? If so, you might want to visit some of the areas populated by Jewish people, for example if you are in England, Golders Green in London.

I can’t imagine they will cost anything like the prices at Optimo.

I hope that helps a bit.

All the best,

J

Joel

I’ve found this Peter if it helps…….I was curious.

http://www.fersterhats.com/page/ferster

J

Anonymous

As someone who grew up in that community, allow me:

Many religious Jews wear black fedoras all day long. Some only wear on the Sabbath. The ones that can afford, like to wear Borsalino, as they are considered one of the best hat makers (or at least they used to be). They probably kept Borsalino in business for years. Borsalino made special models targeted towards Orthodox Jews that they sold in Israel and Brooklyn, NY in particular. You can still buy Borsalino’s at Bencraft Hatters in Brooklyn and there is now a Borsalino store in BK as well (but seems to be a license, and not owned by Borsalino themselves).

Optimo is not a familiar brand in that community as they are quite expensive. I have hats from all different makers and I prefer Wellema!

So there is no famous shop in Israel, but Bencraft is pretty famous in Brooklyn.

G

Green is a rare sight in hats, and had doubts before acquiring one. It looks surprisingly elegant and generates the occasional compliment due to the rarity of fur felt hats when beanies are more commonly seen.

Valentine

Very flattering!

Hugh

Were you on the way to a funeral after this photoshoot, Simon? My condolences.

Fred

Simon,

Beautiful hat; it compliments you. You appear to be wearing the hat rather low on your head–just above the brow, in fact. With the long brim, the effect is rather dramatic. Did you aim for this? Also, how one wears a hat is mostly subjective/an individual style-choice, right? Thank you.

Anonymous

Hi Simon, still seems that there is a bug on comments. After reading the column the comments box does not appear when pressing up/down rhs arrow head. Only way to access is to scroll back to head of article, press small comments box under the share box then access comments box – only then does it open.

Anonymous

Wonderful article Simon, your enthusiasm shines through, your depth of knowledge also. Fully agree re. matching the hat with the outfit – have a similar outfit (black wool formal coat etc.) a charcoal trilby hat completes and, as you say, seems to bring everything into proportion. Thanks again and good luck with the pop-up this week.

JoeFromTexas

If you live in a part of the U.S. where western wear stores are common, a good one will be able to address subtle fit issues and gaping with felt hats using a steamer and wooden molds. I know from experience that in Texas, there are even still some hat stores in many cities and towns that can do this for you. While there is always a (derserved) tip jar, I’ve never been charged for this type of service.

JoeFromTexas

When they have done this for me, to adjust the, I suppose ovalness is the right word, of the hat, they are only using a portion of the mold and their hands to adjust the shape after the felt has been steamed. This allows them to make the hat opening a longer oval, or more circular. They are not using the entire mold to reshape the the hat, rather just adjust. Of course many hat shops (more so than western wear stores that sell hats) do have molds they use to custom form “open” felt hats to a customers wishes, but I’m less familiar with the process and how they adjust a particular mold for a particular head – all my hats have been brought RTW and then adjusted in this way.

Peter O

Now you look with that super Fedora made on the South(west)
Side of Chicago on your head completely dressed!
Congratulations on your discovery of this Southwest Chicagoan handcraft, which should make all Chicagoans proud!

SJ

I’ve had hats made by Optimo for a dozen years or so and they are downright addictive – the quality of the felt, the construction and fit are all excellent. Graham and his team are a joy to deal with – and Graham has well and truly taken the craft of hat making forward.

Would strongly suggest for anyone in the area to check out their state of the art factory in Chicago – it’s not your grandfathers hat factory where there are a few moulds and everything else is tweaked manually – there are precision laser cut moulds that allow Graham to consistently deliver products that fit exactly the same to the quarter sizes.

Thanks Simon for introducing Optimo to a broader audience – they well and truly deserve it.

James A

Great article, Simon. Thanks

BespokeNYC

I really do applaud you for championing hats like these but, for me, the overall appearance is just so formal and dressed up that it’s hard to imagine wearing one very often. To make matters worse, most efforts to dress hats down seem to result in the “lonely nerds in fedoras” look. Also, maybe I lived in Brooklyn for too long but, especially with the beard and the long coat, I can’t escape the hassidic associations of this outfit!

All that said, hats are extremely useful when the weather is cold and/or wet, so I’d love to find something for such occasions that sits in between this and a beanie. I tried a flat cap from Locke but it just felt too unusual for everyday wear. Any other ideas…?

Anonymous

It is clearly the case that hats worn as formal headgear ceased to be the norm decades ago.

They were once part of a formal dress code, but no longer are.

In their place are now hats worn as part of a look. Nothing to do with formality, more to do with style.

Hats worn to keep your head warm in inclement weather are, of course, a different topic.

JoeFromTexas

I find that a fedora with the brim turned up all around gives a more casual appearance. Flipping the front of the brim back down brings back the seriousness, at least to my eye. Ethan Newton, for example, appears to utilize this often – wearing the brim up when dressed more casually, and front down when more formally dressed.

Of course, finding the right hat for your head plays a large role as well.

BespokeNYC

PS loved seeing the comment advising you to try Optimo Hats in the original article about your first hat nearly 10 years ago!

TOS

Simon,
Fantastic photos and a great look!
Re the unstructured trilby: who would you recommend in the UK?
Many thanks and look forward to popping into to the pop-up.

Martin

Did you mean Austrian hatmaker Mühlbauer? I couldn´t find any hats on the Connolly website.

Anonymous

…hi Simon, comments now working without problem – tried twice yesterday. Using iPhone 7 to browse…

Justin

When you mentioned that this is your favourite bespoke item, did you mean the hat or the overcoat?

Emanuel

Hassidic Jews (Lubavitch) favour hats by Borsalino. Beaver felt is preferred, although Borsalino also offers hats of rabbit/hare felt at a lower cost.

G

I agree. Traditional hats work best with overcoats and a scarf. I’d add a pair of leather gloves as well to finish the look.

Spencer

Simon, don’t worry about the hatband colour; your last image is absolutely smashing and the band complements the shade of the hat. Gorgeous.
Greetings from Canada,
Spencer

Chris

Dear Simon,

a great article as usual and a stunning outfit. As you already mentioned the performance of your hats as rain protection several times I wanted to ask if you would consider writing an article on that topic.
Because I have found conflicting informations on the internet as to how different kinds of felts perform and how you have to care for a wet hat (how to dry, reblocking ect.) I would very much welcome one of your concise guides on that topic. It would also help me with the purchase of my own first felt hat that I am planning for the next fall/winter season.
Thank you.

ANM

Simon,

I am not sure I can remember anything that you have featured that has looked as good (on you) as that hat.

Certainly nothing that has affected your look in such an immensely positive way. Perhaps I have become inured to all the wonderful suits, but the hat is amazing.

Good luck with the adjustments.

Bravo, and well done!

Optimo-crafted hats are well worth the price and wait for the finished product. I’ve had one of their fedoras — The Dearborn model — for a couple of years and plan to treat myself to another before Winter 2019-2020 arrives. It never fails to garner a compliment or two.

Best Regards,

Joseph A Franceski

I have three great hats from Optimo, but the prices have gone up a lot in the last few years. Most of the best hats are now over $1,000 which is a lot for a hat I will tell you. When I bought my first hat it cost about 550, which was excellent for bespoke work. Graham Thompson is great guy, and I am totally behind his work, but the economics of multiple hat ownership are challenging now.

TOS

Simon,
Any thoughts on how Optima compare to Wellema?
Useful that both makers are in London this autumn.
Best wishes.

TOS

Simon,
Thank you.
Do you have any details for the Optimo pop-up eg opening times etc?
Many thanks.

TOS

Just to comment that my wife and I both purchased Optimo hats today. Graham is one charismatic dude! He and the team were wonderfully helpful and able to guide us – a couple of novices – expertly. I was struck by the flexibility of fedoras and the ability to wear them formally, smart-casually and casually with relatively small tweaks eg popping up the front of the brim, wearing them tilted back etc etc. What a product and how odd that hats are now so rare.
Graham and the team should be congratulated on their pop-up. It’s a lovely space and I can’t quite believe how many hats they’ve brought over from the US!
Simon, thank you for bringing Optimo to a wider audience here in the UK.
I’m hooked…

Dan

Assuming the shoes are black (just a bit difficult to determine in the photo), and in such an outfit dominated by charcoal and navy, it’s nice to know that a tan leather bag can be brought into the mix. I’m guessing because it’s not necessarily taboo to not match your bag with your shoes/belt/gloves, and the fact that the color contrast is stark enough?

On a related note, would a dark brown bag just not work?

Anonymous

Simon who would you recommend for someone looking for a straw hat? Optimo offers felt and straw hats, but I don’t know if there’s him or someone else you’d recommend, like Brent Black, etc. Thank you~

Anonymous

Following up on this thread, at what price point would you say that Optimo straw hits a sweet spot? They range from $600 to over $10,000. I’m thinking about getting one in the $1,000 to $2,000 bracket, but I’m really confused by such a wide delta. Perhaps better put: how much would you personally spend on an Optimo straw hat? Thank you.

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

Apologies if you’ve covered this elsewhere, but I want to commission a felt hat from Optimo and would very much appreciate your input.

1. If this is to be my only felt hat, what color would you recommend going for? I dress rather classically and in a similar color palette to what I’ve seen you wearing, and would wear this hat mostly with tailored wool or cashmere overcoats, but also eventually with less formal outerwear. I’m very drawn toward the shape of your hat here.

2. I realize the versatility mentioned above might be difficult to achieve so, if I were to have two hats, one more formal and one less so, what would you recommend for each in terms of shape and color?

Thanks so very much.

Anonymous

Much obliged. Would you say that this brown is versatile enough: https://optimo.com/collection/the-club-fedora-25

Anonymous

Simon, do you have an opinion on different hat edge treatments? I noticed this one is welted and Wellema’s appears to be raw (or am I wrong there?) Do you have a preference between these and/or bound edges? Thanks.

Anonymous

Simon,

Thanks for all your previous answers regarding this subject. Would you mind sharing a but about the following:

1. What is the brim width of this hat?

2. What modifications you made to the standard Park Avenue model that they stock?

3. What do you mean by a more tapered crown and why is this something good for you?

Thank you very very much.

Anonymous

Thank you very much, Simon. This has been most helpful. Quite smitten by how this hat looks, I was thinking of ordering a Park Avenue (as I read on the first post about this hat, in a comment, that it was based on that model), but now I understand it would not be the same in the most important ways. For reference, I believe we are of similar size and with broadly similar face shape, which is why your input is very helpful to me, particularly given that with current events I cannot travel to Chicago. May I ask your permission to request Optimo to make a version of this hat for me? Thanks again.

Anonymous

Simon, what did you think of Optimo’s “heirloom” felt (i.e., pure beaver belly)? Since you usually get the best in a category, was there any reason why you didn’t go for this felt here? Thanks!

Anonymous

Makes sense, thank you. It is indeed a significantly higher price, which is why I’m hesitant to go for it.

Based on your experience with the product, would it be fair to say that the only noticeable difference is that belly fur is softer? If that is the case I would be inclined to agree with you, but I thought (maybe mistakenly) that there were other quality differences in terms of density and durability. Thanks again.

Haackk

Hi.

In the article you wrote that there would be more info on Mori of shoemakers coming, but I can’t seem to find an article about them on your website.

As I’m currently contemplating a purchase from them, it would be great if you could share your thoughts on the quality of the shoes you have from them.

Thanks

Sam

Is that the Manhattan model? I can’t find that you mentioned it. Thanks

Chancellor

Do you happen to remember which colour of felt you got?

And if one is concerned about the taper of the hat when looking from the front, would deepening the creases address that, if not as well as getting a custom shape as you did?

Chancellor

I know you’ve previously covered Brent Black for straw Monticristi hats. Optimo also does these. If you were to want a summer hat now, would you get a custom one from Brent Black or a bespoke one from Optimo (on a regular block, not a custom block)?