Wellema bespoke felt hat: Review

Monday, April 6th 2020
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This is my first hat from Cody Wellema, the LA-based craftsman that we covered the background on a couple of weeks ago.

A hat from Cody is an investment - something that is truly made to last for years, and to be cleaned, reblocked and looked after. To reward time and care, as well as money.

It is also, of course, part of tradition in excellence and craft that perhaps deserves support in its own right.

So, how good is Cody's hat, and how does it compare to others?

Well, it is a beautiful felt hat: well-made and well-fitted, in beaver. These are the most important things, and the ones that separate it most from the majority of hats, made in rabbit or hare, to standard sizes.

Having owned hats in beaver for a little while now, I don't think I'd ever own anything else. Because it wears in so nicely, is so tough yet luxurious.

And having a fairly unusual head shape (extra long oval, around 15% of Western men) I would find ready-made hats, usually made to a standard long oval, too annoying.

They gape a little at the sides, or the brim buckles. There is nothing in between, even if you put felt strips under the sweat band (as most shops that find you have this problem, recommend doing).

This is a luxury, to only buy at this level. But even if you wear hats regularly, you don't need more than two or three. Perhaps one panama for the summer. So the total cost is not huge.

I'm not a good test case, given I need to review makers for this site. But any capsule wardrobe would never include more than one or two felt hats.

(In the image above, the wind has caught the back of the hat rather - that's not the normal line of the brim.)

Those are the most important points about this Wellema hat.

But how about the next level of detail down?

Well, the fit is good, though perhaps a bit tight. I've worn it about a dozen times so far, and even though that has softened it a little (particularly the two times in heavy rain) it is still a close fit.

It's absolutely wearable, but I can imagine Cody being a little frustrated and wanting to take it away and stretch it a little.

The hand sewing inside and outside is lovely: the hat band, the sweat band, the lining and the bow.

I went for a classic 'kick' bow, where one end is slightly raised out from the rest, which is very classic.

In the past I've had a box bow at the back (Stephen Temkin), and a gathered bow (Optimo), both in an attempt at something subtler and perhaps more modern.

But in the end it didn't make much difference to the look of the hat or how I felt about it, so I've resorted to something standard.

The sewing of the hat is worth emphasising because it's such a big part of the making (in terms of time) and because it's a significant point that will separate two hats made of the same material (alongside fit).

There are cheaper hats made from beaver, but they often lack this level of finishing. Good sewing should look like machine work, it's so fine; and be virtually invisible, because it's tucked behind the ribbon or bow.

Cody agreed that the brim width I normally have (7cm) and the slightly short, tapered crown are both good on me, so those are the same as previous hats.

The one thing I did notice is that the crown was shaped to be lower on my head than other hats, which didn't quite work, creating a small ridge at the back when I first wore it.

But beaver is very malleable, and that ridge dropped out after a few wears.

I'm sure one of the first things readers will ask is how this compares to my Optimo hat.

I've deliberately left that question to the end in order to try and deprioritise it. Because there aren't any really significant differences - certainly compared to how much hats on this level differ from the rest of the market.

It's not like tailoring or shoemaking, where there are really distinctive styles to each maker, in everything from the last to the waist to the toe shape.

It is, perhaps, more like shirtmaking - where there are small differences in collar or cuff style, but the biggest difference is tiers of quality or handwork.

Optimo does use some extra processes, particularly to add strength to the felt, but those are the kind of things that tell over a decade, not a month, and hard to pass comment on at an early stage.

The biggest difference might have been style, if I had gone for a western-style hat like Ethan Newton and others wear, and Cody does a lot of. But that's not me, at least for now.

As I mentioned in our first post on Wellema, that's something I would want to explore in person with Cody, ideally with his whole range of hats at our disposal. And a leather jacket.

Of course, customers will have to make a choice between makers, if they're buying a hat. But I would suggest they do so on the basis of access (neither Wellema nor Optimo are easy to see in person, or indeed Stephen Temkin) and perhaps styles they like, before anything else.

As a footnote, I thought readers might like to see the choices I had for the silk ribbon (below).

As noted in my first piece on Stephen, the ribbon makes an amazing difference to the overall look of a hat - felts can look green, brown, grey or even yellow depending on the ribbon colour.

Between the four - thin brown, beige, thick brown and dark brown - I went with the safest option probably, the thick (and standard) width brown (bottom left).

Thanks to all those on Instagram that helped me make that decision. I actually went against the majority (who wanted beige) but the comments helped confirm my rationalisation.

Other pieces shown:

  • Liverano & Liverano tweed overcoat
  • Fox Flannel trousers made by Whitcomb & Shaftesbury
  • Belgravia loafers by Edward Green

My hat: Pure beaver, dress weight (approx 4.5oz), pecan colour, standard/bald finish

Photography: Milad Abedi

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Fernando

Hi Simon, when are you dropping that sweet yohei fukuda shoe review?

Fernando

Looking forward to it, also what a beautiful hat especially the color

Tim

Hi Simon, as you mention the one difficulty about purchasing such a hat is the access we have to meet Cody in person. Even after current events, I don’t see myself on a plane to LA just for a hat fitting. I am still kicking myself for not having had the guts to explore more when I met him briefly at your pop-up. Having heard him on HandCut Radio I really warmed to him, his ethos and passion and feel I should revisit my youth when I regularly wore hats. I just wonder do you think you will be inviting him back in the future? Thanks.

limekiln

That hat really is a beautiful thing.

Mark Seitelmam

Wonderful hat.

New York has its own, excellent hatter, Worth & Worth by Orlando Palacios. They are above Turnbull & Asser on East 57th Street. They are worthy of your examination.

David M.

Dear Simon,

I take on board your comments on fit and your head shape, but have you any thoughts on how the quality compares to some of the London hatters such as Lock and Co.

Anonymous

Maybe Cody can use this feedback to strengthen the material in his hats. To be honest his business very close to me, but the material comparison is a deal breaker, even if long term.

Simon do you recommend wearing hats if you primarily wear knitwear and jeans/trouser tailoring? What kind of hat and color would you recommend?

robert gault

As I have stated I have multiple custom fedoras from multiple custom makers. The majority of them are using the Winchester beaver felt so it is easy to compare one to the other. The one I do not have is an Optimo….I do have price resistance. But Optimo is the one maker that can claim to use a superior product…Fepsa beaver belly fur compared to Wellema’s Winchester beaver. I am most curious how you would rate Optimo’s felt over the Wellema felt. Is the Optimo worth the extra $$$? Is the difference in felt quality: sheen, hand, nap all that discernable? Or is it more a case of paying for a name, paying for a label?

robert gault

I think a great experiment would be for you order your next custom fedora from one of the many small market custom hatters. They all are using Winchester beaver felt same as Wellema but for decidedly less money. Buying from one of them you would then have custom hats spread across the gamut of price points from $300, Wellema in the $600 range and then Optimo at $1200. I would venture that if you were to do a blind test of the 3 hats with a group of men the group would be hard pressed to discern the difference amongst the 3 offerings. In my view the custom hat market is very much driven by a “what the market will bear.” LA and Chicago being two of the more affluent markets in the US.

robert gault

I think the most salient aspect is that all the custom hatters in NA are using Winchester felts (save for Optimo). Their is a great deal of marketing involved in the custom hat market…selling the mystery when in fact it is a relatively simple process. Not saying it is easy, it is a craft that takes much time to master but it is simple. There is a great video on YouTube showing Art Fawcett making a hat. A client has made a video of Art making his hat throughout the entire process and edited it down to a palatable 30 minutes. It is fascinating to watch and take much of the mystery of out the process. Art is a master hatter (mentor/teacher to Stephen Temkin) that charged $375 for one of his beaver hats. To me the only plausible explanation for the span of prices is the different markets allow for inflated pricing. If a hatter can get $600 for his hat, all the power to him but as a note to a newbie into the custom market you do not have to spend that kind on money for a custom beaver hat. You can get a great hat for 1/2 of what Wellema charges and a 1/4 of Optimo. My oldest custom is approaching 12 years now…..made by a young hatter at the time and it still looks as new. Watch the video I am sure you will enjoy it.

robert gault

Yes, Optimo’s belly beaver may be a difference maker. But leaving Optimo out of the equation we are back to comparing Apples to Apples with all the other custom houses in NAmerica. I have a few Winchester Beaver/Mink blends that I purchased from NA hatters for less than 1/2 Optimo’s standard beaver felt. Hatters get to charge what their market will bear….we as consumers, if money counts, need to shop around for the best value.

robert gault

Yes, but many of the custom hatters I mention too have bricks and mortar shops. But it seems we at least agree then that the price point is not directly related to the quality of the finished fedora….other factors come in to play.

Peter K

Simon your review is very thorough on craft and fit but I don’t get a clear impression of how much you actually like the hat. Do you like wearing it or does it leave you “meh”?

Randy

Cody’s store is close by and I finally went in February. I didn’t have enough time to get fitted for a hat, but I plan to as soon as it is safe. His workmanship appeared first rate and he was patient and informative. A little something to look forward to . . .

Jason

You are on the verge of achieving ‘Hatster’ status. Something many flaneurs can only dream about.
This one looks good on you. I’f you hadn’t documented the dimensions, I could have sworn that this was down to a smaller brim.
One thing that I think is key to spreading the ‘Hatster’ religion is that your style shoots show how they work with casual attire. For many flaneurs this will be the acid test.
Perhaps you could revisit this and Optimo in this light ?

Anonymous

What color/material will you make it in? My impression was that this Wellema felt hat was going to be your “casual” hat?

Anonymous

Simon, when you say smaller brim for the more casual hat, what do you mean in terms of centimeters? How small would you go for that hat? Thank you.

E L

Style-wise, I think this is your best looking hat. I think the head part of the hat (i.e. not the brim) is less obtrusive, which makes the hat look more natural and makes the hat stand out less. The color is also quite nice.

Anonymous

Does Brent Black make the best panama hats to suit your head or does Optimo?

Chancellor

Of the three hatters you mention (Willema, Optimio, and Leon Drexler), which do you think would be best in regards to providing style advice and helping a novice to hats pick a style and colour that would work for him?

Chancellor

Thanks. You also allude to picking between the three makers based on styles they like. Does that extend beyond Wellema and Western-style hats? It seems all three can make pretty much anything.

Anonymous

Can a felt hat look overdressed with certain outfits or is it wearable with everything?

What about panama hats (e.g. with shorts and t-shirt)?

Anonymous

How should you pick what color and weave of panama hat you want? Is a whiter colored hat more formal than a yellowish one? What shade should one go for that is most versatile?

Anonymous

Great, thanks for the comparison.
What is your opinion on a bandless panama hat? I’m thinking that may suit me if i’m shorter, since it’ll look less stylized.
Does bandless make the hat look smarter too? Or does it make the hat look floppy and unstylish?
So for a first panama hat (for casual wear), you’d go for a color like your sisal hat? And what color band?

Anonymous

I’m always confused about how to join your IG live chat sessions Simon. Can you please explain how?

Anonymous

Hm, yes I did find your story on IG, but it doesn’t show the actual video… once the live chat is finished, does the story disappear? Or is it possible to view after the video has aired?

Steve

Hi Simon,

For someone new to hats, who of the three you mentioned (Optimo, Wellema, and Temkin) in your opinion has the best grasp of stying? or is this less of a problem in this space?

As we know, there are some amazing tailors who craft beautiful garments be shouldn’t be trusted for style advice.

ANM

Simon,

Very nice, and its’ interesting to think that if you look at anything from movies, to newsreels, to simple street photos from more than say 60 years ago. most men would have been wearing a hat….Although, come to think of it, its’ creeping back up at the low end – the ubiquitous “baseball” cap…but I don’t really count that….

And on the color of the band – one “rule” I read about is that men have high – contrast colour pieces whereas women go for subtle shading…(men – white shirt, dark navy blazer, gray pants. Women – 6 shades of beige, or whatever colour the outfit is in…etc.)…so it was surprising that the suggestion was to go with the low – contrast beige band…I would have even gone with a darker band…

H

Hi Simon,

What colours do you think are the most versatile for a hat and would this change depending on the style of hat (i.e. western vs. fedora)?

Thanks!

Bryan

Hello Simon,

I noticed you listed the Dark Brown as a more versatile option over the Pecan pictured. I was curious as to why that was? Does it have to do with the contrast an individual is able to achieve with the rest of the outfit? Or is it simply the darker the color the smarter it is?

I ask because I was also looking for a bridge filler. A hat that can easily adapt from smart to casual. By what you referenced earlier, it sounds like the Pecan would be the better choice for my intended purposes. Would a color in between a Pecan or a Dark Brown (think Whiskey) be as versatile as either of those colors?

Thanks & I look forward to your response.

Anonymous

Simon, do you think silverbelly would make for a good Lock and Co Voyager style hat? Thanks.

Anonymous

Sorry, but seems like you posted my question without an answer. Will repeat it here for convenience: do you think silverbelly would make for a good Lock and Co Voyager style hat? Thank you.

Anonymous

Thank you very much, your point is well taken. What about something like this “pecan” color?

Owen Eather

In Australia, with Sun that makes Northern Hemisphete daylight resemble dungeon illumination, headgear is second nature. We have an illustrious hatmaker, Akubra, family owned in Armidale, New South Wales, for over a hundred years. Once a lucensee of Stetson, its quality exceeded the US firm’s and they discontinued. If you have an Akubra, like RM Williams boots, they will go into your estate for the family to fight over. They make the traditional military slouch hat for the Australian Army, stern purchasers of best quality. I have a trilby, 18 years old, that is better than a similar Christey’s item, good though that is, and is always commented upon at the gallops. You might spare some time to look South, once in a while.

robert gault

I have 6 Akubra hats, some as old as 25 years. They make a good, mass produced, off the rack hat. I think they represent one of the best hat values in today’s marketplace. They are well made, rugged, take the rain incredibly well but the felt is on the coarse side. They cannot compare to a custom hat costing upwards of 5-6 times as much but represent good value nonetheless. Akubra hats and a custom are two distinct animals…..both deserving a place in the market. Akubra is a great entry level hat, great knockabout hat but do not compare to a bespoke hat.

Harry

Simon, Have a look at Hufvud in Sweden. Another one man operation. His hats are something else.

Akubra are great for rain. Don’t always want to baby my 100x beaver. Oops! Beginning to sound like the script to something I know nothing about.

Anonymous

Yes, what do you do after your hat gets in the rain — just let it dry? How do you know when you need to take it to the hat store?

Anonymous

When it’s really pouring do you just wear a hat and overcoat Simon?

Won’t your overcoat get soaked? Why not wear a raincoat + umbrella?

Anonymous

Interesting… I didn’t know hats and overcoats were so durable. With the serious damage it does to shoes, I assumed that salt would be an issue for hats and cloth too.

Do you usually wear your overcoats over a sports jacket?

If you had one or two bespoke overcoats would you make room to add a fur lining? Or should the 18-21 oz overcoat keep you warm enough?

Anonymous

I guess my question was whether you make your bespoke overcoats to fit a jacket underneath~

What would be the warmest scarf? Wool? Cashmere isn’t very warm I find.

Do you make all of your shirts to fit an undershirt? I know you typically don’t wear them, but I was wondering if you do make some shirts slightly more loose (like your chambray) to wear them.

Anonymous

I see. Do you make all of your shirts to fit an undershirt?

Anonymous

About overcoats being ok when soaked — i’ve had linings (for my trousers) wet before that I let air dry, and the result was a wrinkled disaster!

I was also told that linings shrink when wet, so isn’t so good if you want to properly align it with your fabric.

S

Hi Simon,

Just wondering what do you think is the smartest colour for a hat ? Dark grey ? Navy ?

Thanks!

S

P.S By smart, I mean most formal.

S

Excellent points, thank you very much!

Anonymous

What about dark green? For example Wellema’s “moss” color (https://www.instagram.com/p/B6tS7EUnmi-/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link)

Very interested to hear your thoughts.

Anonymous

Thank you very much, Simon. What do you think of that specific shade of green in Wellema’s “moss” felt?

And also, would you mind explaining why did you go for the pure beaver as opposed to the beaver and mink mix?

robert gault

I have a mink/beaver blend fedora and while it is a good hat with a lush dense hand it is also very stiff….much stiffer than my pure beaver fedoras. I echo Simon’s comments on hat colour. Dark blue, which I love, is not an easy colour to match and wear. My 3 dark blue hats, from navy to a dark marine blue, sit on the shelf most of the time. Same thing applies to my moss green hats. Wonderful rich colour but hard to match up. One I wear for casual dress, brown leather jacket, boots and blue jeans, the other I use as my cool weather hiking hat.

Alexander

Hi Simon, are there more local to the UK options for Hats of this quality and craftmanship? I have been watching Optimo for some time, but i doubt i will ever make it over to America to take advantage.

Elton Richards

The overall look is too costume-like for me. A hat with a brim like this just doesn’t work in a 21st century context. Comes off as a little affected. Also makes the head look small and the neck very thin.