I suppose that men who sell shoes have a similar problem with shoe trees but when I worked in a hat shop, I tried to sell a hat jack to every customer who bought a felt hat. I never once succeeded; the poor customers probably thought I was just trying to make an extra buck. I was trying to do them a favor, so they would learn from my mistakes.
A hat jack is an adjustable wooden form that, when inserted into hats, can serve one of two functions: to retain a hat’s size, or; if necessary, to stretch it a bit. The words ‘a bit’ are important, because the general rule of thumb is that the most you should hope for is another full size up on the metric system (ex: stretching a size 59 to size 60). And that’s being optimistic, so it’s imperative that you purchase a hat that fits well in the first place.
Fur felt hats, either of rabbit or beaver, are notorious for shrinking. Perspiration, or moisture of any kind, is the enemy of a fur felt hat. This fact is lost on many men because felt hats are virtually waterproof, and cannot actually be damaged by water. It can rain on your hat the live-long day, and when it dries, it will still look marvelous. It just won’t necessarily be the same size. If this happens it’s important that you do something about it quickly, because a hat can shrink beyond the point of repair. Because of my former ignorance in this regard, I can no longer wear the first hat I had custom-made, a treasured grey fedora built for me by the late Burton Berinsky, of the now long-defunct Jay Lord Hatters in New York. Don’t let this happen to you.
When I first started wearing hats, I was constantly running into hat shops to have them stretched. It got to be such a nuisance that for a while I considered giving up dress hats altogether, which would have been a sartorial shame. No one told me then what a hat jack was; I didn’t even know they existed. When I started working in a hat shop, I watched scores of men running in every week to stretch their hats. Sure enough, some waited too long, and had to resort to a professional stretching (the hat is steamed before it is stretched. I have not found this to be superior; just more expensive). All this can be avoided simply by keeping a couple of hat jacks around the house.
This is by no means to suggest that every man must have a hat jack: if you live in a dry climate, perspire little, and never get caught in the rain, you may be fine. But few men can meet these three requirements all the time, so why take a chance?
Hat jacks are somewhere more than $20, as of this writing. Believe me, they’re worth it.
Words by Barry Pullen