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The Mad Hatter: The Optimo Hat Shop in Chicago

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The Mad Hatter: The Optimo Hat Shop in Chicago

January 31, 2013

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).

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

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

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Above: An Optimo Montecristi Panama (originally made in Eduador).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.)

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

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

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

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

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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.

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