Above: Percy Stith creates custom hats out of his Santa Fe studio. Photograph by Stefan Wachs.
A VETERAN OF NEW YORK'S fashion industry, Percy Stith came to hat making almost out of necessity. He’d lost his favorite Stetson, and the sticker shock of attempting to replace it awakened his memory of learning how to cut, block, and shape hats more than 15 years before. As proprietor of Percy’s Hat Shop, in Santa Fe, Stith crafts wool chapeaus—many with leather bands—to customer specs, from dapper derbies to hipster fedoras, high crowns to low-profile.
Thinking cap: Stith originally picked up the basics by watching his ex-wife make hats for 15 to 30 minutes a day. “But when I came back to hat making years later, I’d forgotten everything.”
Dyed in the wool: Stith developed his own process by watching videos online and through plenty of trial and error. He doesn’t use patterns and has only a few basic round block sizes to create his one-of-a-kind felted wool lids in natural browns, blacks, and whites, or dyed to suit. “There’s definitely a freedom and a personal touch to the cutting and hand-shaping process.”
Old hat, new hat: An innovator, Stith has been experimenting with dyeing techniques and developing a brim cutter that he hopes to patent. “The brim cutters I’ve been using are antiquated and have been the same for hundreds of years.”
Bee in his bonnet: Stith is launching a make-your-own kit, complete with video instruction, materials, and tools. “This will hopefully create a new generation of makers. This feels like a time where people are empowered to do for themselves.”
Hat tip: The key to wearing more hats? Own more hats. “Vintage hat advertisements advise different hats for different face shapes. But people can look great in any kind of hat. There’s no formula. Everyone can be a hat person.”