Custom Cowboy Hats
One of trends, that’s been sneaking it’s way into the rodeo and horse show world is colored and adorned cowboy hats. This is a trend one that I am behind 100%. You can see some pictures of my personal hats below. Let it be known I will always be a sucker for the timeless black felt hat, cleaned and creased to perfection but there is something so individual about rocking a red hat or a hat with studs, paint, or beaded hat band.
Miss Rodeo America, Chenae Shiner has been seen sporting the trend on more than one occasion. The black hat she wears most often with her MRA crown was made by Heads or Tails Hats. It’s a true piece of artwork and accentuates her crown beautifully.
There are so many ways to make your hat your own, even something as simple as the shape your hat is in makes a statement to who you are. On the rodeo scene you can’t miss the “roughies” rocking tall crowns and wide brims.
From there you can go with binding the edges, with ribbon, buck-stitching, studs, rhinestones or even to touch on my previous article beading. Add a unique hat band to seal the deal. You name it, you can have it.
These are some of my personal favorites. I would love to see any of that hats that you guys are rockin’. Be sure to post a photo in the comments below or on our Facebook page, tag us in a Pinterest post.
Smithbilt Hats of Calgary, AB has offered one vintage Smithbilt hat (limited availability and styles) to giveaway to readers. We will draw from whoever, likes, shares or comments on the Facebook photo; retweets or replies on Twitter; pins us on Pinterest; or comments/posts below.
I recently met up with the 2012 Art of the Cowboy Makers “Hat” category winner, Kody Jacobs owner of Wide Open Custom Hat Company here in Utah. The talented maker has made hats for World Champions Kayce Field, Cody Wright, Jesse Wright and NFR qualifiers like Tom Lewis and Olin Hannon. I asked him a few questions about the process of having a custom hat made. According to Jacobs there are around 100 steps from start to finish.
One of the first questions I asked him was what makes a custom hat so great? Jacobs said that once you wear custom you rarely go back to off the rack. Custom hats offer a better fit, a better quality and they allow you to personalize everything from start to finish.
To begin the buyer must determine what quality of hat they would like i.e. the Xs. The Xs are generally a determination of the percentage of beaver that a hat contains. Wide Open Custom Hat Company offers three option:s 10x which is rabbit fur, a 50/50 blend or 100X pure beaver. The quality will determine the price, the more beaver the higher the price. Wide Open’s hats range in price from $200-$1500 (US funds) and depending on what accessories a customer chooses take two weeks to finish.
Jacobs recommends a 100X if you can afford it. Pure beaver lasts five times longer than any other fiber. A pure beaver hat can also be refurbished 3-4 times, thus paying for itself over time.
After quality and options for customization have been made Jacobs takes a soft tape measurement of the individual’s head, a sweat band is then cut to fit the measurement. Jacobs then takes an examination of the individual’s head to see if they have a round head, long oval, etc. Jacobs made it quite clear that not everyone has a long oval shaped head. This determines the block/conformer that the hat will be placed on.
Then begins the fun part, color choice, trims, shapes, etc. “The dome felts I order come in over 30 standard colors,” Jacobs said. Lighter color shades generally take longer because the fibers must be cleaned. Custom colors or matches outside of the standard color wheel can take up to a month to complete. The most popular color is black followed by silverbelly, Jacob’s mentioned that chocolate has been a hot color this year as well.
Jacobs has filled some interesting orders and met some high demands. “I made a yellow, pink hat that was bound with a lime green edge. That was pretty crazy.” If you can think it up, he can make it. “I combined two hats into one to make an 8″ crown for a guy,” Jacobs said.
In order to make the most of your purchase their are a few care guidelines that Jacobs suggests: 1. Don’t handle your hat by the crown. This breaks down the fibers. 2. Brush/clean your hat regularly to keep dust out of the fibers; this helps extend the life of your hat. 3. Temperature is key when storing your hat. Avoid hot cars, or trailers. Heat causes hats to shrink or lose their shape. “The best place to store your hat is on your head,” Jacobs said. For those storing their hats off their heads: 4. Don’t stack your hats, especially light colored hats. The oil and sweat from the other bands can cause discoloration and stains. 5. Store your hats in their box or a hat can, don’t put them in plastic!
Everything Cowboy’s Ted Stovin offered some further insight into the building and finishing of hats. Stovin works as a hat maker for World renown Smithbilt Hats of Calgary, AB.
“At Smithbilt we are actually the only hat factory left in Canada. We make all of our felt hats from a 3X to a 100X. There’s a lot that goes into a hat and it’s not a fast process for the top level hats” Stovin said. “There are many hat makers up here, most of them focus on the high end hats only. I’ve worn a 100x black hat that Vern Elliot made at his store, the Cowboy’s Choice, for five solid years. Vern’s company is now called Gold Spring Custom Hats since he’s moved to Alberta and he makes a great hat.”
Stovin explained that one of the most important steps in building a hat is the block.
“We use a machine to do this that’s over 100 years old to stretch out the hat bodies in which we get from Tennessee, Portugal or sometimes Central America and then push the correct size block into them.”
“From there we let the blocked hat sit for sometimes up to a month in order to dry out, steam is used in this process as well. Once a hat has dried out, it is far less likely to lose it’s shape and size in the long run. Each block is different as they range in sizes from about a 6 1/2 to a size 7 7/8 even the hat bodies range in size from XS to XL.”
After blocking, the hats move to the assembly line. From there Stovin uses modern sanders and lathes to sand down and trim the longer hairs and smooth out the finish.
“Once sanded to our specifications the hats is taken to the jam blocker to make sure the hat is sized correctly and flatten the brim. Depending on the hat again, a hat can be in this heated machine for anywhere from 15 minutes to overnight. After that, the brim needs to be cut to the specific length. We make dress hats too so these can be anywhere from 2 1/2″ to 4 1/2″ as we don’t make anything much bigger very often,” Stovin explained.
From their the sweat band is sewn in, along with the liner and outside hat bad. The last step is shaping the hat to the customers face and specifications.
Smithbilt offers corporate events in which a company can bring their group in to have hats made and even build them to experience the process. If you are interested in a corporate event or for more information on Smithbilt Hats visit their website SmithbiltHats.com.