Video: What makes a quality hat?

Friday, January 17th 2020
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In a comment on our recent video covering suit alterations, a reader complimented my questioning of Davide - saying I was putting the questions the viewer was thinking. 

I was really chuffed at that. As someone who spent most of their professional career interviewing and training others to do so, I want to make these interactions as focused as any written piece of journalism. 

It’s not enough to just point a camera at someone interesting and let them talk. You need to question and clarify - basically, edit as you go along. 

I hope something similar comes across from this talk with Graham Thompson, founder of Optimo hats. 

The aim is not merely to get Graham up there, but to use this as a way to define what makes a good hat. 

What are the available materials, and are there grades within them? What difference do the various processes make? What advantages or disadvantages does a person have, doing the same job as a machine?

We cover all of these in half an hour, as well the perhaps surprising fact that hat consumption began to decline in 1913, according to Graham. 

 

 

You can read more about Optimo, and why it makes some of the best hats in the world, here

Then there’s my visit to the factory in Chicago, here

And my review of my own personal hat here

Hopefully pretty comprehensive, as well as focused, coverage. 

Thanks to Itch Media for the filming, and all the Optimo friends and customers that came along to our talk on Savile Row. 

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Harry

PS becoming my one-stop for enlightenment and education. Plenty of fun videos out there, but very few providing your level of detail. Much appreciated.

One question I would’ve asked: has the absence of lead decreased modern felt quality?

Andrew Poupart

I just got another Optimo delivered this week, a lighter-weight fedora in the Blue Pearl felt. Optimo hats are so well made they put every other, non custom, hatmaker in the shade. Truly the best in the world.

Tom Higgins

Hi Simon. Some time ago I interrupted a dialogue like this one to say how much I like the Escorial cloth that you produced with Joshua Ellis. I’d now just like to say that I love the darker denim shirt that I bought from the shop, and which arrived a few days ago. It’s everything that you said about it and more, and the fit is great for me. I’m looking forward to seeing it after a few washes. Now, about the hats… Well, I haven’t viewed the video yet, though I enjoyed your article on the Optimo factory. But I am still stinging from the purchase of a Borsalino hat in Geneva about a year ago (around £300), which looked beautiful, for about two days. Then it lost its shape entirely, and not from being worn in the rain, either. The felting was too soft and too thin. The shop acknowledged that Borsolino, a company that has recently been resuscitated by new owners, had not got it quite right and that there had been other complaints. The hat has gone off to be re-formed, and will certainly come back looking nice again, but that will obviously only last a short time. Thanks again for the shirt.

Tim Fleming

It’s great to see how you’ve embraced hats and now have all this content on hats and Optimo. I remember years ago when your blog was newer and Graham and Optimo were unknown to you. Thanks for continuing to add more and more depth over the years – it’s a real pleasure!

John Baxter

I could listen to Graham talk about hats all day. His understated but obvious passion and expertise shine through in just about everything he says. Bravo for putting together such an in depth piece.

And yes, by way of referral via the PS piece on Optimo from some time ago, I’ve got my first hat on the way. A Montecristi Panama, the perfect weapon with which to battle the Australian sun.

Ben

To answer the titular question, my preference is to show a variety of makes and styles and have one come to one’s own conclusion. But if the aim is to work out a description of the ideal hat, this interview doesn’t really get there. The subject is mostly addressed obliquely and, as a result, in vague terms: soft but robust, shape-holding and crack-resistant. Potentially interesting asides on how the felt glows and the brim breaks were passed by without followup. Granted, time and attention are limited, but I would have preferred deeper product analysis to, say, how the hat “takes on my personality” or the date of its obsolescence.

Ben

All of those segments are interesting. It just seems necessary to clearly define quality before addressing how to create it, and only a vague definition was provided in the video. Without a clear conception of what an ideal hat looks and feels like, one can’t precisely determine whether, for example, finer weaves and handwork are worth the price, and he is more vulnerable deceptive marketing.

Anonymous

I don’t know about others but I quite like a thin felt hat that has been rumpled a bit.
Can create a bit of a louche look and dials down the formality of wearing one in the first place!
Lock voyager is a good example of this

LAStyleGuy

Admittedly, Optimo makes great–looking hats. But when I read your comment that they offer “fur“ options, I went to their website to learn more. I was aghast to read that they offer hats made of beaver and mink.

Yes, I am a meat eater, and yes, my shoes and belts are made of leather. But without, I hope, igniting a firestorm of angry responses from my fellow readers or, heaven forbid, the International Association of Fur-Using Milliners, I think I’ll pass.

Instead, I’ll stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters in the mink and beaver communities, roundly supporting the position that the best place for their fur is for it to remain on their bodies.

Ian A

When Graham put his hat on it really suited him! Even better than he wore no hat at all, that’s not something i could say for all hat wearers but he’s obviously well practiced at styling it where it truly is an authentic part of his character.

I find the only hat i can wear with my square face is an unstructured Baker Boy hat! Naturally the odd stranger shouts “peaky” after the BBC show Peaky Blinders. But for me it’s far from costume and enables me to keep my head warm while still being rollable enough to shove in my bag. I’m not sure another hat i could do that with but I’d like to explore that area.

Peter O formerly at N. Lasalle & N. Ridge

1. Mr Thompson, who is a reason for every Chicagoan to be proud, should make those who fall sucker to the legend JFK killed the hat by telling them JFK rejected the Federal Reserve Bank’s monopoly and ordered the Treasury to print greenbacks.
2. Mr Thompson overlooks 1913 as year of Federal Reserve Bank and income tax
as background for hat decline.

P. O. formerly N. Lasalle and N. Ridge

3. Chicagoan Thompson, whose sensitive aesthetic guides and manifests in most beautifully designed and crafted hats, overlooked the influence of another artistic hat-wearer Joseph Beuys on America and Beuys’ choice of hat, probably because Beuys was in NYC but not Chicago.

Dave

As it happens I stopped into Worth and Worth in New York today on your recommendation. But after watching this video I just love Graham’s spirit so much I don’t know if I could buy a hat from someone else. Of course, probably the same way at Worth and Worth if you get the corresponding person.

At Worth and Worth some of the styles I liked the most were in a material they called “Western beaver felt” as opposed to the “dress beaver felt” that has that special pliability you talk about here. What are your thoughts on giving up the softness to get a more contemporary style? Besides fashion, I live in the West so a Western hat is appropriate for that reason as well. But there’s just nothing like that soft beaver felt. Your thoughts? (This will be worn a lot with my PWVC trench coat, with the goal of blending in not sticking out.)

Dave

They’re very stiff. Not quite stiff as a board (like a contemporary Stetson, not what they used to be), but close. In the US you’ll see such hats worn by park rangers — I haven’t handled one but maybe similar to a pith helmet?

Anyway, this style of hat is actually much more commonly seen out here than a fedora.

I don’t know the reason for the stiffness.

Jason

What a great video.
I particularly liked the part when Graham put his own titfer on – it just fell into place beautifully and instantly became an intrinsic part of him. I bet that guy could sleep in a hat !
Also, I couldn’t agree more with Graham’s appreciation of what constitutes luxury.
The whole thing has more than increased my desire to own an ‘Optimo’ hat providing I can get one that doesn’t make me look like I’m on the way to a Bar Mitzvah. I’m beginning to think that every self respecting flaneur should own one.

SM

Great piece! I have an Optimo melusine in black that I bought second hand. I love it. I don’t know why men gave them up because they are so practical. I highly recommend Optimo. I can’t wait to get another or two.

CDBPP

Excellent interview. Very insightful.

M.

Dear Simon,

First, this is a great post, delightful and instructive; thank you for sharing this resource.

Second, in the same vein, do you recommend any makers of bespoke top hats? Optimo looks to have a great range of shapes for a number of occasions, but can one find something of bespoke quality at that end of the scale, either in the US or the UK, if you know? Of course, although the occasions for properly wearing a top hat today are few and in general the most formal pieces intrinsically tend to have the least variation, it nonetheless seems that something of the kind should exist. Many thanks!

Bast

What’s a good outfit for a wine tasting event?

Simpiwe

Hi Simon
You are fast becoming my go to guy for mens fashion enlightenment. Your videos are fun to to watch and educational. I can listen to this interview over and over again.
Thank you

Chuck

Hi Simon,

Based on your recommendation I decided to commission a Panama hat from Optimo at the cost of $1800, the hat was just recently delivered when I opened the box I noticed a slight visible manufacturer’s defect on the crown, I have been in touch with the general manager Teffani and an email has been sent to the hatter to get in touch with me but no response, I thought customer service is supposed to be at the forefront of the business? I recently saw the interview video you made with the hatter. Any assistance from you will be helpful.

Thanks
Chuck

Chuck

Thank you Simon I will be in touch again if they do get back to me.

Cheers
Chuck

Anonymous

Is wearing a panama hat together with a suit on business trips or when going to lunch (business day) in summer appropriate?

Angelica Oschatz

Hi Simon, I am specialized in Montecristi hats. I went into the jungles of the Pampas in the region Montecristi to first understand the biological properties of the leaves that serve as raw material for the best hats when speaking to toquilla straw hat quality specifically. May I invite you to these wild jungles and then introduce you to the hands I selected through meticulous competitions?. There are emerging talents ( few, counted with the hands ). I think people selling Montecristi hats should make such a visit and perform the hands-on work in the creation of masterpieces. The two best weavers in the world happen to be men but all the rest are mostly women who sustain unemployed husbands. My showroom is in Switzerland and perhaps this is a first step if you would like to expand the topic of quality into the Montecristi hats and clarify many of myths around it. Angelica Oschatz, Managing Director. +41 765274690

Felix

Hi Simon,

From older articles it seems you have a wonderful Lock sisal panama that I found looks like the non-douchiest summer hat I have seen so far, but I can’t find it on their website – are you aware if they still sell it, or do you have an alternative recommendation for a similarly casual straw hat for the summer heat?

Thanks!

Anonymous

What suit are you wearing in this video Simon? Which fabric specifically, thanks

Anonymous

What’s the difference between a sisal hat and a panama?

Anonymous

Thanks! For one summer hat would you go for panama or sisal?

Anonymous

Well casual, with white shorts and a brown polo shirt. Could that go with a panama?