How a custom hat is made

Utah Success Stories

(NEWS4UTAH – Salt Lake City, UT) In 1863, Richard Smyth was Salt Lake’s hatter. He passed the knowledge to his son Jim who later would train James Whittington also known as JW. JW had a huge impact on the industry, training hatters across the country. He then passed the legacy on to the current owner of JW Custom Hats, Raymond Crane. 

Crane remarked; “Since it has a lot of history, it’s been quite the honor to take this on and move it forward.” 

What makes a hat “custom”?  Crane continued; “We help you design your own hat, so you can feel comfortable in it, it looks good on you, it just feels natural too.”

I asked Crane, ‘Where do people get their ideas for custom hats’? “A lot people will find that they see a hat like in a movie or see a hat in a TV show and say I love that hat, where can I get that? So, they can bring down a picture to us and we can copy that hat. We’ll make it precise to either those measurements on the hat or we’ll make it proportionate to what their needs are.”

Got a favorite movie hat, like say Indiana Jones or Clint Eastwood? They can make that. But sometimes you just want to restore your gramps old hat. 

Roper, Fedora, Gus, Homberg, Porkpie…all popular hat styles. A cool feature at JW Custom Hats is the ability to pick and choose all your options with a specially designed “build your own hat” display in their Salt Lake City shop.

Crane walked me through the process. 

First, he showed me a variety of crown styles. The crown in the top part of the hat. I chose the Homberg crown. Next, Crane looked through a number of brim styles and said; “So Doug, with that homburg I would probably suggest that you go with this type of brim which has a quarter curl on it. That’ll look really nice.” The brim is the top that extends out from the bottom of the crown (okay, I know you may already know these hat terms, but I just figured I’d explain since I am an acknowledged ‘hat nerd’). 

With the Homberg crown and the quarter curl brim put together, I walk over to the numerous colors of felt. Choices, choices… I ended up choosing a unique color called Black Cherry. The best way to explain it is a deep, dark black with hints of deep purple that show up in the sunlight. Raymond than tells me the last step in the pick a ribbon. 

The fun begins when Chase exclaims; “Let’s make a hat.” 

Now I know that JW Custom Hats is a pretty busy place and I’m getting speedy treatment because this is a TV story, but I’m not complaining.

A hatter, trained personally by JW, Brenen Iverson, measures by head, writes some notes and gets to work.

Steam envelopes the felt hat body that I just selected, and Iverson says, “The hotter the hat, more humidity to it, the more malleable it will be, the more it will stretch.”

As Iverson takes the freshly steamed hat we stretch it over a hat mold that may be older than even me, he comments; “JW used to say that you had it hot enough that it would almost blister your hands.”

Steam, stretching, steam, stretching, ironing, hand sanding, more ironing, more sanding, brushing. It’s obvious that this isn’t Iverson’s first rodeo. 

As his expert hands mold the various creases, applies steam and does more hand working on my soon to be new hat I can’t help but think of the knowledge and craftsmanship that has been passed down through the 150 plus year history of JW Custom Hats. 

I explain an idea for a special ribbon treatment to Crane. He interprets my words to a drawing. Their expert seamstress does her ribbon magic, attaches a liner and sweatband. They then stamp by name in gold foil in the hat.

The final step Iverson does is applies steam to his new creation and put it on my head to shape to my unique head. 

As my smile extends, Raymond tells me; “My favorite part of this job is working with the customer. Looking at their face shape. Helping them to design it and in the end, we come up with a hat that matches them perfectly. That my favorite moment. I get to see their smiles and yeh, that’s it…. that’s my hat.?

With another Utah Success Story, and a new hat, I’m Doug Jessop.

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