Have you ever fallen in love with something and then realized it wasn’t quite right? That’s how I felt about my beautiful Resistol hat with white ribbon trim. Something about the crown just didn’t look right to me after I wore it a few times. A month ago Pa Fig of Pa Fig Hat Works was at a show and I stopped to ask about my hat. I know next to nothing about hats. I’ve obtained my hats by three criteria: is it pretty, can I afford it, and does it fit. Who knew there was so much more to it than that? He said he could reshape the crown for me when he was back in town a couple weeks later.
Once he was back in town, I showed up with two hats in tow: my Resistol that I wanted reworked, and my silver belly Stetson from my Arizona days that I absolutely love. I wanted the Resistol to resemble the Stetson.
I stuck around as he started working my Resistol over the steam and then on the poplar wood hat block. The blocks are made of poplar because there’s no grain to leave creases in the hats. He took my hat all the way down to its original, neutral shape: round top and flat brim. He took dirt off with a horsehair brush and worked the felt in a clockwise direction, the calluses of his hands pulling the fibers of the hat tighter. A tighter felt holds a sharper shape.
As he worked he told me told me the difference between the wool and fur concentrations in hats. The more fur (can be beaver, hare or others, like mink) the higher the quality and more expensive . A hat labeled 20X has more fur in it than one labeled 10X, and if you sat a 10X next to a 100X you’d be able to see the difference in texture: more fur translates to a smoother feel and finish. Wool is nice, but it’s heavier, doesn’t breath and weathers poorly. A soaked wool hat not only loses its shape but also shrinks. I once worked with a cowboy from Montana who wore a hat that had melted into something resembling the Gorton fisherman’s hat. Now I know why, he needed a nicer hat!
I have to tell you that when I first saw Pa working with hats, I thought he might be a hipster. With sideburns approaching mutton chop territory, a canvas apron and a hat that looked like it could tell its own tales, I was perhaps a tad skeptical. But you know what they say about books and covers and judging. Pa Fig, that’s his name, is by no means a hipster. He has a genuine love for his craft that came through as he let me pepper him with questions and incessantly take his picture.
So how does one get to be an artist at such an unusual job? For him, Rod’s western Palace of all places. He worked two Quarter Horse Congresses. It was doing 100’s of hat shapings that he developed a system for shaping multiple hats at once and learned the best way to coax those wool and fur fibers into the desired shapes. He also learned some mistakes to avoid, like fully shaping a hat before realizing the crown rests on the customer’s head (it shouldn’t do that). With fifteen years of experience now, he stays busy. He had a steady stream of people stopping by to drop off hats and pick up hats the entire time I was there. He also collects vintage hats to clean, reshape and sell. Resistol is his favorite vintage brand. I didn’t ask what his modern-day favorite is, but he sells Greeley Hat Works hats, so I think that’s a clue. I didn’t ask how much they were, their smooth texture told me they were probably higher quality than I could afford right now. Blogging is not a particularly lucrative career. Nor is writing a book for going on three years. But perhaps someday. I can picture myself in a granite-colored hat with a deep cattleman crease.
Ultimately my Resistol could only approach a baby cattleman’s crease. The crown is not as tall as my Stetson and so can’t support a really deep crease. The Resistol was made to be a bricker. Buying foam inserts at a show last year, a lady told me the Resistol wasn’t my hat. Not sure if you know this or not, but you can’t tell me much. So I took my foam inserts, added a layer of hairspray to my head and pinned the hat down with several bobby pins on each side. I’d show her. Well, as is the case many times when I dig in to my stubbornness, that woman is probably right. But my beautiful hat works for showing and now I know what to look for in my next hat.