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Custom Hatter Fedora

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Cigar of the Year, Jan/Feb 2005

Back before JFK supposedly finished the fashion by going bareheaded to his inauguration, you could always tell a man by his hat. Nowhere was this more true than in the movies. The Westerns always had their white-hat-equals-hero-black-hat-equals-villain tradition. A top hat marked you as the swell. A turned-up brim meant eccentric or teenager (à la Andy Hardy). A homburg puts you in charge just as it marked Michael Corleone's ascendancy in The Godfather. But the hat of the coolest character was always the snap-brimmed fedora. Humphrey Bogart set the style and handed it off to a generation of hard-boiled, tough-talking private eyes and wiseguys.

Alas, men's hats are no longer everyday apparel, but if anyone could bring them back it is Gary White of Custom Hatter. He has done his best to resurrect hat making as it was practiced in the 1920s, apprenticing under a master craftsman and traveling around the country to rescue old hat forms and other tools that are no longer made. So time honoring is his passion that White was chosen to outfit such modern movie characters as the Untouchables, Indiana Jones and Dick Tracy, who are also quite highly identified with their fedora fashion.

The result of his obsession are hats that White likens to "fur coats for your head." The analogy is apt since he typically works with prized beaver pelts (as in the hat pictured, $350) and sometimes with more exotic materials, such as mink and cashmere. The secret, of course, is not cutting corners. Repossessed furs or those made with fillers make a cheaper hat, but then the hat is, well, cheapened. Same ethic goes for the inside of the hat. White uses natural leathers, not synthetic, for the sweatband and satin for the liner—sewn in, not glued. The outside bands are made from silk with bows tied by hand, not machine. After all, as he points out, "the bow is like putting your signature on the outside."

White fits according to head shape as well as diameter. A store fitting is best, but those who can't make the trip can send in a front and side photo and tape measurement of their head to work from (40 percent of his business is over the Internet). White counsels would-be Bogies to match fedora brim sizes with face shape (e.g. wide face/wide brim). And take care of your hat and it will last a lifetime.

Visit www.shopniagara.net/ custom_hatter/hatter.html or call 716-896-3722.

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