ISSUE 57  |  Haberdashery

The Mad Hatter: The Optimo Hat Shop in Chicago

January 31, 2013 6:30 PM

BY Izabella Simmons

Johnny Depp is a fan—and so are we. A true hatter is hard to come by these days, so when Graham Thompson was offered the chance to take over a hat shop owned by a master hatter on the south side of Chicago, he jumped on the opportunity to revive an almost dying art.

I first learned about the Chicago-based Optimo Hat shop from my husband, who would pass by the store daily on his way to work every morning. Its slogan, "Life's better in a great hat," piqued his interest, and one day he made time to pay a visit. That same night, he was ready to sell some of his books (which means the world to him) for a topper—or what he called "a fine piece of hat".

Optimo Hats received its new name in 1995 (with Thompson at the helm) and has since been the go-to hat shop for both movie stars and locals. Optimo will custom make one of their hat options for you after a precise fitting and consultation. Interestingly enough, it's all about the ribbon: its width, texture, and color can transform a hat's character.

Here is a one-minute video of Optimo – one of the last remaining traditional hat shops in the world.

Photography by Xssy via Flickr (except where noted).

Above: Owner Graham Thompson in his shop holding a felt hat. (Photo by American Craftmans Project).

Above: Hats on display for clients to see, feel, and try.

Above: An Optimo Montecristi Panama (originally made in Eduador). The finest Panama hats have 2,000 or more weaves per square inch and it takes about six months to make. (Photo by Optimo.)

Above: The Milan, an all-time classic straw hat. (Photo by American Craftsman Project).

Above: The Felt hats are made from wild furs and come in several colors and ribbon options.

Above: A Singer sewing machine at work while making a hat for a lucky customer.

Above: Molds, ribbon, and machinery are all part of the hat production.

Above: A chalkboard is used to display the different hat options, services, and prices.

NB: Looking for more Chicago sites? Check out our Chicago city guide.