Jonathan Rodebaugh lowers a skeletal, black contraption onto my head, its weight sinking into my hair. It looks like a medieval torture device, but thankfully it’s not dangerous. The Victorian-era headgear is called a conformateur—and it only measures the shape of your head. Though it may seem archaic, high-end hat makers like Rodebaugh, founder of Chapelo, believe that the conformateur is one of the most important instruments for creating perfect-fitting headwear for his clients.
“It’s one of three tools we use, along with a measuring tape and head caliper,” Rodebaugh says. “The measurements we take are used to create a custom-fitting hat to your exact head shape.”
Rodebaugh writes down your specifics, then sits with you to discuss the type of hat you’d like him to make. “We offer three hat styles,” Rodebaugh explains. There’s the Bennett (which is a trilby, a hat made with a short crown and small brim), the Pinkerton (a classic business fedora) and the Catherwood (an adventurer’s fedora with a larger brim to withstand the elements). Picture the hats of Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart or Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, and you can imagine the variety of headwear that Chapelo creates.
After you’ve selected a style, the next step is to select your hat’s felt and ribbon color combination. Here, Rodebaugh’s attention to detail is truly impressive, and elements of each hat can be further customized to include adjustments to crown height, brim width and detail work. Chapelo hats are handcrafted from 100 percent American beaver felt and are made in the United States at the company’s Sylvania, Ohio, workshop.
Each hat takes three to four weeks to complete and comes with a storage box, a block to help maintain its shape and a hat brush for keeping it looking its best. Pricing starts at $1,295. Appointments can be arranged on the website.