We should preface this piece by saying that yes, this is a $99 baseball hat and yes, We do realize that for most (if not all of you) the idea of buying a nearly triple digit baseball hat might be enough to make you close this window faster than a Walter Johnson fastball, but like all things baseball related, if you study the stats, we think this hat is actually worth the money.
Allow me to preface this piece by saying that no, I do not personally wear pith hats in public (although there was that one time) and no, I am not necessarily advocating for them to become popular (although stranger trends have happened, looking at you men’s skirts). But like the boater —which we are still waiting to make its comeback— it could be time for the pith hat to see a world wider than Ralph Lauren window displays and letter carriers.
A pith hat is not your standard headgear. More protective than practical, more of a shield than something stylish, the pith hat was a military helmet, that was adopted in the mid-nineteenth century by Anglophiles on safari, who were just looking for a way to combat the blistering Saharan sun. It was in the late 1800’s that the pith hat rose to prominence throughout Europe’s tropical colonies. The original version of the hat was constructed from real strands of pith extracted from the region’s plants (although later this would be replaced by cork and ultimately plastic), wrapped in white cloth, and often adorned with a military insignia.
Hat maker Quaker Marine Supply seems to be something destined for “discovery” by your favorite local Americana loving menswear shop. Originally founded on the Philadelphia waterfront, the company has been making classic hats (mostly geared toward the seafaring set) in the U.S. since 1946.
The company changed ownership recently and relocated to Portland, Maine in 2003, though it continues to produce some seriously iconic cover — and for reasonable prices. Take for instance the wool and suede ball caps pictured herein. You’ve probably seen versions of these hats in a variety of different stores of catalogs, but the Quaker Marine versions aren’t the cheap imported variety you are accustom to seeing, these are the real deal. Made in the USA and all for 28 bucks.
The Optimo Hat Company video that I posted not too long ago had me pining to own one. But realistically, when was I going to be in Chicago again (I was there two times more this year than the past ten) to visit Optimo in person? Then out of the blue the company founder Graham emailed me to tell me Optimo is holding its yearly NYC trunk show this weekend at the Gramercy Park Hotel. This was great news and I quickly set up an appointment to see what was on offer.
To see the hats in person and try them on was such a nice experience. The tactile quality of the felt was wonderful and the Panama Hats are truly special. It made me want to run home get into a suit and head straight to 21. The trunk show is set up as one-on-one appointments for customers to get fitted and browse the different style and material options. If you want to buy a hat, Optimo takes the order, then the hat is made especially for you and sent out a few weeks later. It is a familiar process for anyone that has met with a visiting tailor. But since today was the last day of the trunk show, you will have to visit the Optimo shop in Chicago to get your hands on one. And trust me, these hats are best appreciated on your head.