Over the last few years I’ve found it interesting that while men’s hats (hats – not ballcaps) have made a bit of a comeback, there are still very few people who make or wear really exceptional ones. There are a ton of cheap, stingy brimmed fedoras and trilby’s out there, but none of them are really any good. Most are made in the spirit of the fashion world, ie- disposable 10 minutes from now, and cost way too much for what they are. This is in pretty stark contrast to men’s suits, where there are now many really good tailors making some pretty fantastic clothes. But hats, alas, remain a comparative wasteland. But in the midst of the tumbleweeds, one man in New York State is making really exceptional custom made hats on a daily basis. That man is Gary White
Above: Hat by Gary White in “dark moss” beaver felt with 3 point diamond crown with a Homburg roll on the brim. Side view.
Mr. White runs “The Custom Hatter” from a small studio in Buffalo, NY. His shop is packed with tools of his trade that reach back 100 years or more. He has sought out and acquired vintage and antique wooden forms and machinery that allow him to create any authentic hat shape or style that you could dream up or find. I appreciate his work for two reasons. The first is his adherence to tradition and not falling into line with easy fads. The second is the craftsmanship and quality of the hats themselves. They’re made from very high quality felts pressed from one or more furs. The hat making process itself is carried out by Mr. White to the customers specific desires, although he offers guidance and advice if wanted. Using a rare old machine he blocks (shapes) the hat before going on to finish the crown shape with the correct form to match the customers desires, selected from a huge collection that Mr. White has acquired over the years. The final steps involve shaping and finishing the brim before hand sewing in the lining and putting on the ribbon. Basically Mr. White is providing the equivalent of Savile Row tailoring skills for the hat making industry. You can see an overview of his hat making process here.
“Nucky” & “Jimmy” wearing hats by Gary White.
As you might imagine, the custom hat making industry is a smaller one, but Mr. White manages to get quite a bit done. You’ve seen his hats on the heads of all the central characters on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and in films like Millers Crossing and The Blues Brothers. A couple of years ago I decided I wanted to get a new fedora
, but I was never really 100% happy with the hats I got in stores. Either they didn’t fit properly, or they seemed cheap, or had vinyl sweatbands instead of leather, etc. I started researching and looking for a hat maker who could make me a really nice hat that I wouldn’t have to make any concessions on. One day I mentioned this while at my tailor’s (who happened to be making the suits for Boardwalk Empire at the time). Someone there sent me on the hunt for Gary White, and I soon found his website. After some initial consultations by phone, I had Mr. White make me a 3 point diamond crown fedora with a “homburg
roll”. That just means the brim is rolled up on the sides like a homburg. The felt is a dark green and the hat band is a New Old Stock
ribbon from the 1930’s. It’s far and away the nicest hat I’ve ever handled in my life, and it feels extra cool that is was made just for me.
If you like how you look in hats and want to treat yourself to something really special (it is almost Christmas), give Gary White a call. He makes almost any style hat you can think of, he can recreate things you’ve seen in films or have a photo of, and the entire thing can be done by mail and phone, from anywhere in the world. He can also restore historic or vintage hats, if you already have an oldie that you want to breath new life into. You can see more of his hats and find all of his contact info here.
Some more shots of hats from Gary White’s studio…