Grey Matters: My Trip to Flamekeepers Hat Club

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By: Dale

A few weeks ago I had a small problem, I was supposed to buy a light grey suit for a wedding and at the last minute, I didn’t. Instead, I bought a light grey fedora. I knew that wasn’t the point but here we are…

Purchasing a hat when I should’ve purchased a suit wasn’t even the trickiest problem now, the size of the hat, and specifically the size of my head, was. 

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I’m no stranger to stretching hats — I’ve got a very big head (big brains), so when I tried on a Paul Stuart fedora, that I couldn’t leave without, I was shocked that it was a little roomy. Thinking it was my imagination, I bought it anyway, knowing that if it was actually too large I could give it to my father, who has an even more sizable head than I do (bigger brains?).

After a week of trying it on and deciding I couldn’t leave the house looking like that, I gifted the hat to my father, but even his expansive dome was no match for this one. I was stuck with a hat I could neither wear nor give away. Determined to fix it, I did some research, but before I tried some of the other dubiously extreme methods for “shrinking” a hat, like putting it in the oven slightly wet or sweating in it like crazy on a hot day, I wanted to know what the experts had to say. So I called Marc Williamson, owner of Flamekeepers Hat Club in Harlem, to get his take on it.

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Marc has been in the hat business a long time. He has over 20 years of experience at J.J. Hat Center (11 as part owner), so he’s seen it all. I made my way to his beautiful shop at the intersection of St. Nicholas Ave. and West 121st St. so he could take a look.

What I worried about for two weeks he fixed in about five minutes. One look at the fedora on my head and he whipped out a few hat sizing strips and went to work. He affixed the strips directly to the sweatband. A few try-ons later and voilà, the hat sat properly on my head, perched slightly above my ears. Still, something wasn’t quite right, and he suggested that he reshape the crown for me.

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A pinch in the crown, he explained, would better fit the shape of my face. He steamed the crown and expertly pinched in the sides to mold the soft rabbit fur felt into a lower silhouette. It looked great, but by this time he could’ve recommended anything short of a pirate hat and I would’ve agreed. Just $15 later and what used to be hours of buyer’s remorse has been sitting on my head ever since.

Make sure to check out Marc and Flamekeepers Hat Club in Harlem for all your headwear needs.

There will be more on my suit selection later…

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