February 26, 2009 in City

Doug Clark: Haberdasher can bank on fedora

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Dave Wolf, owner of Wolf’s Hattery and Mercantile, steams a fedora in his Northwest Boulevard shop Wednesday. Wolf says more people are buying fedoras.
(Full-size photo)

You don’t need to examine the soaring jobless numbers or the stock index to know that we’re headed into another Great Depression.

One of the telltale signs is that more and more Americans are looking the part. And by “looking the part” I mean that more and more Americans are wearing retro fedoras.

Yes, the fedora – that classic pinched-at-the-crown, bent-brimmed dress hat. The fedora was the stock-and-trade hat for Prohibition-era gangsters, gumshoe detectives and tough guy actors of yore like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart.

Or if you want a more modern cinematic example, the fedora is also the weathered trademark lid of Indiana Jones.

Man, put a fedora on your head you’ll look cool even if Bernie Madoff just lost all of your savings.

But you don’t need me to tell you that the hard times hat du jour is making a comeback

Just ask Dave Wolf.

“If the fedora wasn’t going on right now business would be a little bit slow,” said Wolf, the owner and operator of one of Spokane’s most amazing stores: Wolf’s Hattery and Mercantile, 2617 W. Northwest Blvd.

The fedora trend, he added, “started about two years ago, and it’s been building up steam. The younger guys are getting into them.”

Women, too. Hollywood’s perennial party girls Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears have been seen sporting fedoras. Although it seems like their fedoras should come with booze-holders and long straws.

Let’s get our nomenclature straight before we go any further.

Wolf, 42, is a haberdasher because he sells plenty of men’s furnishings like hats, wool caps, belts, etc.

But he is also an actual “hatter.” Using tools that were antiques 50 years ago, he practices the all but lost art of cleaning, blocking and, yes, even making hats.

Wolf never planned on being a hatter, of course. Who would?

He fell into this bygone trade. The first step came after graduating from North Central High School. Wolf took a job selling boots at Olsen Bros. Clothery, a landmark Spokane store dedicated to western wear.

Wolf said he paid attention to what went on in the store’s custom hat department. So when Olsen Bros. closed, Wolf bought the hat department which included all of the ancient wood crown and flange blocks.

As expected, cowboy lids and attire were the big sellers at Wolf’s new Hattery, which opened in late 1997.

Ironically, it has been the rebirth of the old-school fedora that has kept his business rolling along in these dark economic times.

“It’s an easy-wearing hat, the fedora,” said Wolf, who wore a sage green Stetson fedora cocked on his head at a jaunty angle.

Wolf’s biggest seller is a $59 fedora made by Broner. Young hipsters love that one, he said.

Depending on the quality of the felt, however, the price of a fedora can shoot up into the hundreds with pure beaver fur being the fedora gold standard.

I bet the PETA freaks love that.

As a sideline to his business, Wolf has become known as the go-to guy when it comes to creating hand-made replicas of the hats worn by actor Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones movies.

Note the word “hats.” I didn’t realize this until Wolf told me, but Ford’s fedora is slightly different in each film.

So when someone orders an Indie hat (Wolf charges $310, by the way) the details get pretty picky.

Take the Canadian man who sent Wolf a packet of photographs and a letter of instructions.

“So you see, Mr. Wolf, I own a ‘Raiders’ fedora already,” he wrote. “And while I really like it, something is not quite right with the crown, according to me. I find the crown not large enough and too narrow as it reaches the top.”

No problem. Wolf made the hat spot-on. Another satisfied customer.

During my Wednesday visit Bill Stewart dropped by the Hattery to pick up his prized vintage Stetson hat that is known as an “Open Road.”

That name may not ring any bells. But I know you’ve seen one of them before.

A cross between a fedora and a western hat, the Open Road was immortalized by President Lyndon Johnson. It’s still sold as the “LBJ Hat.”

Stewart, a Priest River resident, told me he’d had his Open Road 23 years and that his father-in-law owned it for some 40 years before that.

Some people do get pretty attached to their hats.

A couple of months ago, for example, I bought a beautiful black Borsalino fedora from the famed Byrnie Utz hat store in Seattle.

I know what you’re thinking. Why would a baseball-cap wearing lug like me buy a fancy fedora?

Just planning ahead. I wanted something nice to wear when I wind up in a bread line.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@spokesman.com.


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