So you have received your new hat and now you want it to last. Good news, there are many small ways of adding years to a hat's life. Follow the steps below and you will have a hat that lasts.
Proper handling will extend the life of your hat. Never try to touch the hat with dirty, oily hands or gloves. There is no quicker way to ruin your hat. Pick up the hat from underneath by both the front and back brim to maintain the shape and set of the brim. If you have a hat stand or block, resting the hat on one of those will make this operation easier.
Avoid resting your hat on flat surfaces, especially if it has a snap brim. To preserve the pitch or scope, of the brim, the lower front of the brim should hang over the edge of any surface it is resting on. Hats left on a table top bow up in the front and back while bending the sides downward and forever deforming the shape of the brim. If need be, you can also rest a hat on its crown, providing you place it on a clean surface.
With proper handling and care, a quality hat will remain a thing of beauty and source of pride in any collection or on any head for years to come.
Cleaning And Removing Stains
When dealing with vintage hats, purists never wear them, less strict collectors wear them when their hair is very clean, and nobody takes the ageing hat out in a downpour. Stiff hats will collapse. Keep a close eye on the weather when wearing vintage hats. If you are caught in the rain with your felt hat, turn out the sweatband to dry it and to provide a platform for the hat to slowly dry on. Gently push out the creases and dents to make the crown as rounded as possible. Never use a hair dryer as this will wrinkle and damage the hat. Once the hat is dry, gently reform the crease.
Whether vintage or modern, dust your hat daily with a soft-bristled brush. Stiff bristled brushes will tear the felt. Western stores frequently sell hatter's brushes for this dusting job. Use a dark-coloured brush for dark hats and a light coloured brush for light hats.
A damp towel with a slight nap can also be used to remove dust. Gently rub the dampened towel in a circular counter-clockwise motion over the surface to quickly remove dust. A soft towel used to dry off with after a shower will work. Remember, do not try this with a stiff hat, moist shellac is a terrible thing.
For stubborn stains the brush will not reach, try using a soft, small-pored sponge such as a make-up sponge or a bit of foam rubber. Rubber sponges are slightly sticky and will coax surface soiling away from the felt. An art-gum eraser will work as well, as long as you remember to rub with a counter-clockwise motion to the grain.
For deeper stains, sanding is required. Using the finest sandpaper on the market, move the sandpaper counter-clockwise very gently and gently touch the dirty spot. Be careful not to dig in or use your finger to push up against the spot from underneath as either of these will cause the sandpaper to dig in and create a weak spot. When sanding is required, make sure to remove only the tiniest layer of felt.
Oily stains are a different matter. For these you need to head to the paint or hardware store and find Fuller's Earth. It has the consistency of baking powder, will not stain hats, and will draw the oily residue out of the hat fibres. Brush the stained spot off first. Apply roughly one-eighth inch worth of Fuller's Earth, and let it sit for two or three hours. Brush the powder off afterwards with a soft brush or towel. Repeat this process if necessary. When finished, use a plastic or rubber sponge to clean away powder that has penetrated into the felt.
If stains remain after all of this, find a professional renovator for your hat. Heavy sweat stains, for example, need professional attention as they penetrate deep into the body of the felt.
A straw hat is a delicate item. If you want it to last you have to care for it in the proper fashion. Never handle a straw hat by its crown. The natural oils in our hands dry out the straw, and when the straw dries it becomes brittle and is more susceptible to cracking. Handle the hat by its brim, yes the oils still affect the straw in the brim, but the brim is much easier to clean and much less likely a spot for cracking to occur. See our section on cleaning hats above for more info. Be sure to store your hat either in the box that you bought it in or in a spot that is away from sunlight. Never store a hat on its brim as this will affect the block. If you wear a summer and a winter hat and know that you won't wear a straw hat for some months during the winter, store it. Don't let the dust get to it.
What about when the hat is already misshaped or just not quite where you want it? Use a tea kettle to get the shape that you like on your brim. Just hold the hat over the steam for a few seconds and try and rework the brim with your hands. It only takes a little steam to loosen the straw so go slow. Be sure not to hold the hat so close you harm the hat or your hands. A little steam goes a long way and is what we use ourselves if we want our own hats to shape just the way we like them.
A felt hat is made to keep you dry and keep the sun off you. Use the same steam techniques described above to get the hat to the shape that you like. Some felts do much better in rain than others. Some on our website already have a waterproof spray applied, while with others this might affect the colour. If you have any questions about which materials are best and worst for weather, call or email us.
Though most felts are meant to hold up in weather almost all hats have a saturation point where they will finally soak through. If you get caught in a heavy rain and the hat gets soaked through be sure to let the hat dry completely. Leave it out over night somewhere in your home where it can dry thoroughly. Never use a hair dryer, and never store a wet hat. Hair dryers cause wrinkles and affect the felt. Leaving a wet hat in a small box is just like leaving any other wet clothing in a small box, it will get mouldy.
Stains are almost inevitable with hats. Like all apparel, sweat and grime will eventually work their way into all hats. If you love an old hat and the techniques provided above don't help, there are some places that can clean, block and restore hats. It can cost quite a bit, maybe more than the hat was worth. But if you really like the hat, it has a history or some sentimental value; this is your best option.
We at Village Hats hope that this info is helpful. We have come up with this from 15 plus years of selling hats, and in no way claim to be the authority on hat cleaning. Please realise that we are not hat cleaners, blockers or restorers. We just want to provide our customers with tips that we have discovered over the years to help them enjoy their hats for as long as possible. Have fun.