Stephen Temkin’s
Hat Primer

© Stephen Temkin 2018


Curled or “rolled” brims are usually shaped by hand using small irons called curling shackles. And unlike snap brims, curled brims are more or less intended to retain a fixed shape. Indeed, classic top hats, Bowlers and other similar hats possessed hard, heavily shellacked brims that were utterly immoveable unless heated. Also, the curl is most often bound with ribbon as this gives the brim a clean, well tailored finish.

At Leon Drexler, the binding of curled brims with ribbon and the binding of snap brims (which I call a galloon edge) are two somewhat different processes. A standard or snap brim simply has a narrow grosgrain ribbon evenly folded over the edge of the brim and stitched down close to the edge of the ribbon, top and bottom at the same time with the completed line of stitching being fully visible. This can be done by hand, but finer and more durable results are achieved by using a sewing machine designed for this purpose.

This method of binding, however, does not provide a satisfactory finish for curled brims. For the polished, well tailored result usually desired for the dressier look of this style, curled brims require a much more time consuming process. A ribbon is first fitted to the curl, stitched inside out (by machine) to the inner edge, then pulled up and over to hug the outside of the curl while leaving a piping effect along the inner rim. Finally, it is invisibly hand-stitched around the outside bottom edge of the ribbon with a single thread to keep the ribbon stable. When finished, there is no visible line of stitching either on the inside or outside of the curl.

As mentioned in chapter three, curled brims tend to be dressier than snap brims. But this rule holds true when expressed in the context discussed above: fixed brims feel dressier than modifiable brims. And that’s likely because formality in men’s dress is traditionally not about individual expression, but rather the wearing of specific, less modifiable elements. Specificity and formality are inextricably linked—classic white tie evening wear is a perfect example.

The same holds true for dress hats: a specifically shaped hat feels less casual than one which is malleable to individual taste. That’s why a Homburg immediately seems less dressy when a front pinch is applied to the crown. It’s not so much, I think, the shape of a pinch that is explicitly more casual, but rather the very act of pinching, an action

that insinuates personal preference and which

creates the possibility of irregularity and unpredictability. If there is one thing formality demands, it’s predictability.

Although all rolled or curled brims would be regarded as fixed brims, not all fixed brims are necessarily rolled, or at least not fully rolled. The Drexler Milaner is a perfect example. This is a style of fixed brim known as an open roll, and it’s effect seems to lie somewhere between a rolled brim and a snap brim.

Turning down a brim has the same casualness-inducing effect as pinching the crown, and it seems the more turned down it is, the more casual the hat becomes. If on the other hand you want to appear dressier, chances are your brim will be rolled or curved upward in some way that is not meant to be messed with. And so a curled brim seems to say, “this is exactly how it’s supposed to be.” It’s the difference between intention and whim: dressiness is intentional, casualness is whimsical. Both have their place in a varied wardrobe.

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.


About Brims

When considering the various style elements of felt dress hats, it is probably most common to think of brims as falling into two general categories: snap brims and curled brims. But it may be more useful to think of them in slightly different terms, that being either modifiable brims or fixed brims.

A snap brim is curved upward all around the hat (as shown above on the left). This is usually achieved by pressing the brim over donut-like moulds known as brim flanges. The resulting shape enables the snapping down of a portion of the brim, most typically in the front (the classic Fedora look as shown above on the right), but it can be snapped anywhere around the perimeter, not at all, or even around the whole hat. This is purely the prerogative of the customer. You may manipulate the brim to your preferred look and also change that look from time to time if so desired. In other words, this is a modifiable brim.

A curled brim is not so much given a curve, but is rather “rolled” inward from the edge to varying degrees. Such brims are also given certain other aspects of curvature, particularly a front-to-

back arc, also to varying degrees. Historically, the best known hats with this style of brim are top hats, Bowlers and Homburgs, but many hats that sit outside these categories may also have curled brims. The image below is just one of several pages from a 19th century hat catalogue showing various styles of hats, all with curled brims.