Quality British hats

One (of many) of my quirks is a penchant for wearing hats, and admiring quality hats, so I found the article below quite interesting:

Christys’ hats, Witney:

Christys is one of a handful of hat makers left in the UK. It supplies Lock & Co and Bates (neither of whom make their own hats) as well as having its own label. For much of its history Christys was the largest hat maker in the UK, with over 3000 staff at one point. (Today it is 30.)

Some of the Christys flanges are over 150 years old

Christys is also one of around 10 makers in the world that does both its own felting and blocking. Felting is the creation of the raw material. It involves blowing rabbit fur or sheep wool in a machine the size of a small office, to separate out the finest hairs. A second machine then blows the hairs onto a cone mould, while that mould emits steam. The combination of heat and moisture causes the hairs to bind together, forming felt. It’s a little like putting your merino wool sweater into the washing machine – it comes out shrunken, the hairs densely packed together. The felt is then rolled and compressed, to bind it more tightly.

An old ’16 Guinea’ – the original sewing machine for hats

The Christys felting (known as the wet side of hatting) is still done in Stockport, while the blocking is done in Witney, just outside Oxford. Christys acquired its Stockport felting facility in 1821. At that point the company was still owned and run by the Christys family, going back to Miller Christy who founded the company in 1773 in London.
With Luton perhaps a close second, Stockport was the traditional centre of the hat industry in England. The football clubs of both towns are still known as The Hatters. The two other big makers, Olney and Failsworth, are headquartered in Luton and Manchester respectively. 

Interestingly, around a third of the Christys business today is making hats for the military and police force. The traditional Metropolitan police helmet has a plastic base but a felted outer layer that is formed on top of it. They also make panama hats and an astounding number of bowlers and toppers – 10,000 this year. That’s a bowler below being steamed before its edge is curled, prior to shipping.

I visited the Christys factory in Witney this week and will do a step-by-step post on the blocking side of the process after Christmas. As with many of the factories I have reported on, the age of the machinery involved makes them unique and fascinating places.  

Meet the Hatterites

I’d like to address the question below:

What makes a man wear a hat?

For me, there are several reasons why, if I’m outside, I’m wearing a hat:

  1. It’s anachronistic. (See this article.)
  2. It keeps my bald head warm in the winter, dry in the rain, and un-burned in the summer.
  3. Military indoctrination: My head feels naked if I’m not in one outdoors.
  4. My dad used a beat up old cap as his trucker “brief case”. On occasion, I’ll toss loose items in mine when I need them to stay in place. It’s nostalgic.
I used this as a profile picture until someone thought I was in a ball cap.

Keeping costs in perspective

When I see something like the ad below, the first thing I want to do is convert it to present dollars:

The Duffer Coat, 1960:

(click to enlarge)

Source:
Yale Daily News – 11/9/60

Fortunately, this is really easy to do using a tool from MeasuringWorth.com. This coat costing $29.95 in 1960 would cost $227.00 today. Even more fun is to peg the cost against the historic value of gold. Gold was $35.27/oz in 1960 (per Kitco), and is $1734.70 today, so while you could buy 1.2 of these coats for an ounce of gold in 1960, you can buy 7.6 of these coats with that same ounce of gold today.

Unfortunately, it’s probably not that simple. That coat in 1960 probably had a lot of quality sewn into it. Following that theme and sticking with a brand that has a tradition in quality coats, Burberry has one that costs £895.00 ($1425.00), putting us back at 1.2 coats for an ounce of gold.

So, in my overly simplified analysis, an ounce of gold will still buy you the same quality coat today that it did in 1960.

NB: I am making a huge assumption that the coat in the ad is Burberry quality. I could be way off, but I have no way of knowing. I just take for granted that it wasn’t manufactured in a 3rd world sweatshop in 1960.

Panache in plaid

If this outfit doesn’t demand attention, I don’t know what does.

Colonel Alexander Gardner, 1864 Now that’s what I call a…:
Colonel Alexander Gardner, 1864
Now that’s what I call a Madras suit.
From Wikipedia:
Gardner was involved in numerous gun fights and sword fights during his career. He was described as being six foot, with a long beard, an all around warrior and fighter. Gardner was known to have saved the City of Lahore in 1841 when his comrades abandoned him and he fired the guns that killed 300 enemies. He is described by Keay as continuing to suffer the effects of 14 wounds in later life.
(Thanks, IM.)

Suits for Big Gentlemen & How To Wear Them Elegantly

An excellent article for those of us who don’t have/find time for the gym:

Suits for Big Gentlemen & How To Wear Them Elegantly: Most of the time, modern fashion is oriented around youthful, slim models. However, many bespoke suit wearers are more seasoned and don’t have time to hit the gym 6 days a week. Regardless of your build, you can certainly look dapper even if you have a little bit of meat on your bones. Recently, I [more…]
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