How Are Felt Dress Hats Made?
The felt for men’s hats normally is made from one of three kinds of fur: beaver, rabbit or wool. Beaver felt is considered the rarest and most refined of the three. Felt is made by matting the soft undercoat hairs of these fur coats and then treating them with hot water and steam, pressing them, folding them and repeating many times until the individual hairs are indistinguishable and a fabric has formed a tight bond. Mercury nitrate used to help speed up this process, but the fumes in poorly ventilated work spaces drove many hatters to insanity. Thus the birth of the phrase “mad as a hatter.”
As a fabric, felt is one of the strongest, and oldest, natural fabrics made by humans. Its strength helps to make it a durable material for hats. When treated properly, it can last for many years. However, repeated exposure to heat and moisture also trigger felt’s natural tendency to shrink.
After the felt is made and dyed, it is then blocked on special handmade wooden models. It is carefully steamed and pressed into place. The brim is crafted in a device called a flange. The brim gets a treatment of flattening with steam and pressure. Stiffeners are added to help the brim hold its shape. Many manufactures do not treat the crowns of fedoras and pork pies with stiffeners, but bowlers are especially prone to stiffening. Dress hats made of wool are more likely to see stiffener, regardless of their style.
Once the hat has its shape, it is sanded to a smooth and even texture. The inner lining is added next, along with the leather sweat band. Both items provide comfort and protect the hat. The lining is particularly important for protecting the felt (and any stiffener) from the oils and styling products in your hair. The outer hat band and other trimmings are added last.