Chicago hat shop brings back classic styles

November 9, 2010 4:40:37 PM PST
Back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s almost every man in America wore a fedora. But that style faded away-until now. And that's because of Optimo Fine Hats on the Far South Side.

The store on Western Avenue near 102nd Street is all about fancy men's hats. They are the kind that take you back in time but also remind you that some classic styles never go away.

"We're a full service hat shop and we clean and block and restore hats. And we make hats. We make the best hats you can buy anywhere?in the world," said Graham Thompson, owner Optimo Fine Hats.

Thompson opened his business here 15 years ago, and now people come from around the world to Optimo, one of the few shops of its kind left anywhere. They custom make almost 3,000 hats a year and restore another 5,000. Thompson learned the craft from famous Chicago hatmaker the late Johnny Tyus.

"He taught me the importance of making a great hat and the principles you have to follow when you make a great hat," said Thompson.

The felt hats are all made of European fur, including wild beaver. The straw for the Panama hats comes from Ecuador. Some hats will make you look like a black and white movie star. And, of course, you get to try them on. You will be fitted according to personality and body shape.

"Typically low crown and shorter brim," said Tiffani McDuffy, Optimo Fine Hats, describing the kind of head that would look best in a certain hat.

The hats at Optimo start at about $400 to $500. But they go up through the thousands. They even have one hat that is $20,000. Now how can a hat cost $20,000?

"It's the finest Panama hat that's possible to be woven. It's super fine and totally evenly woven," said Thompson.

A craftsman in Ecuador took over a year to make that hat.


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