Stephen Temkin’s
Hat Primer

© Stephen Temkin 2018


What is Felt?

Felt, as it applies to hat making, is essentially a textile composed of the matted fur or hair of an animal. The degree to which fibres will effectively mat, and the character and quality of the felt, depend upon the type of hair used.


The Elements of Dressy vs Casual

What we think of as dressy or casual is embedded in our culture and traditions. It is also, to no small degree, lodged in our psyche. Who

amongst us who was raised in the Western world could regard a dark worsted suit as casual, or shorts and a t-shirt as formal. It is mentally impossible. We learn the signs and signals of dress and respond accordingly, often unconsciously.

And so it is with felt dress hats. Some are decidedly formal while others feel very casual with a whole spectrum in between. And yet we may not know exactly why a particular hat seems one way or the other. Of course, much depends on context. Many hats can be dressed up or down. However, those at the very extreme ends of the spectrum usually require a more specific context to avoid looking out of place. A black Homburg adorning a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers looks suspiciously ironic. A green, narrow-brimmed porkpie atop a tuxedo looks clownish. But let these men exchange hats and the awkward conspicuity fades.

It is impossible to precisely categorize the various elements of style as having one definitive effect or the other, and combinations of elements often have surprising results. However, the following “rules” represent general tendencies, keeping in mind that the very idea of a rule pretty much guarantees exceptions.

The darkest colours and the lightest colours tend to feel dressier, mid-tone colours more casual.

Neutrals and blues are dressier than earth tones. Sombre tones are dressier than bright.

Hats with ribbons that match the colour of the felt are dressier than hats with contrasting

ribbons. Very narrow ribbons feel more casual than wider ribbons.

Hat feathers and other adornments usually make a hat less dressy.

Shallower, more tapered crowns feel more casual than fuller crowns.

The more bash to a crown, the less dressy it looks. (A hat with just a centre crease can be made instantly more casual by adding a front pinch.)

A napped (angora) finish tends to be more casual than a bare finish, and both are more casual than a satin (Venetian) finish

Very narrow and very wide brims tend to be more casual than the middle range.

The more turned down a brim, the more casual it looks. (A hat with a standard brim angled down in both the front and back feels much more casual than just a front snap.)

A curled brim (Londoner) is dressier than a standard snap brim, and curls bound with ribbon (Budapester) are dressier than raw curls.

On a standard brim, a galloon edge (brim binding) tends to be feel dressier, although colour and contrast can sometimes produce the opposite effect.

Eyelets in the side of a crown make a hat feel sporty and therefore more casual.

When you consider the enormous multitude of ways in which the above elements can be combined, it is easy to see that the dressy/casual dynamic can be rather subtle and complex. My advice is to be familiar with the elements at play, and to then let that knowledge inform your intuition.