Blake Canham-Bennett is currently Adelaide’s sole men’s hatter.
In 2019 – and many years before – classically styled hats have been somewhat of a niche product. The baseball cap has never lost its place in the world, and the flat cap has had a small resurgence thanks to the TV show Peaky Blinders.
However, many classic hats like fedoras, bowlers, homburgs and porkpies have all but lost their place in the minds of most men. The image has been tarnished by a fringe element of unfashionable men wearing cheap, poor quality trilby hats with old T shirts and baggy jeans.
Images probably just popped into your head. Times are changing though, and the classic hat is slowly coming back into vogue.
Recently, I’ve seen people begin to warm once more to the traditional notions of classical hats. It’s becoming a part of wider sartorial taste once more.
Blake is part of that movement, bringing back the hat in unique style.
Unique people often end up in unique trades, and Blake exemplifies that.
Last week, I visited the Blakesby workshop on Angas Street to delve into the world of hatmaking and have a good chat about men’s style. As someone who is quite unfamiliar with hats myself, it was a great learning experience and a fun time!
Without further ado, here’s an account of what we talked about:
What got you into making hats?
B: I originally started out as a milliner (maker of women’s hats), when I did a TAFE course in 2012. The course ignited in me a passion for making hats.
I got into crafting men’s hats in 2015. I didn’t know the difference between milliners and hatters at first, but I soon realised that being a milliner wasn’t for me; what I really wanted to do was to be a hatter and particularly a specialist in classic men’s dress hats.
I had to seek out much of the knowledge myself; I learned through a combination of studying texts and reaching out to others. Much learning was done from other hatters! Some of the books are quite old but have a lot of relevant information still.
One of the mainstay books on men’s hatting is from 1901!
S: It’s great that you were able to pursue the knowledge and establish yourself in doing what you really wanted to do, even with it being such a niche trade and having to search far and wide for the information. I didn’t even know what a milliner was before today, or that hatmakers for men and women are separate trades!
How long would you say it takes to make a hat from scratch?
B: Depending on how fast I work and the complexity of the build, it can usually be done in 5-12 man hours of work. This includes time for setup and drying off in between steps. Of course with multiple projects on the go, it’s rare for a hat to actually be made from scratch in just one day.
S: I’m surprised that it can be done as quickly as 5 hours!
What kind of materials do you work with?
B: I work predominantly with rabbit and beaver felt, and sometimes straw. Occasionally there will be a commission for a duplex (half-half) hat. Felt is easier to work with than straw, so it is more fun.
For the hat ribbons, I like to utilise vintage materials and will go for something with interesting character.
Blake then showed me the difference between rabbit felt and beaver felt, which was very apparent in the feel. Beaver felt has a much more luxurious feel and consequently is a pricier commodity.
What are the hallmarks of discerning a good quality hat?
B: First and foremost, that it isn’t made of wool felt. Wool felt is a lower quality felt – cheaper and nastier – and doesn’t have the hardiness or durability of fur felts. Many department store hats are made of wool felt and consequently won’t last long.
An absence of glue is another point; glue has no place on hats.
A ribbon made of natural fibres is also a hallmark, though there isn’t really a way to spot a synthetic ribbon other than setting fire to it.
S: Can’t imagine that going down well at the shops.
Let’s talk about wearing hats. Is there a particular style of dress hat that would suit more men than other types might?
B: A classic fedora shape with a crown of around 5in and a brim of 2.5in. It’s a staple because it complements a lot of face shapes.
S: I suppose that explains why the fedora was an extremely popular choice back in the golden age of hats.
B: Yep. It’s a classic choice and really hard to go wrong with.
Have you seen any changes in the way hats are worn in the last few years?
B: I’ve noticed that things are stepping away from low crown, small brim hats to a more classic Western style.
Your outfit is quite unique: where did you source your clothes?
B: The jacket, spearpoint polo and chinos are all from Simon James Cathcart. The chinos are reproductions of a 1930s style and the jacket is a heavy tobacco linen in a 1920s cut. The shoes are reproductions of classic 1930’s basketball shoes.
SJC does a lot of reproduction vintage wear and you can check out the site here. I love the drape of the chinos! The linen jacket Blake is wearing was really nice too.
Do you think hats are making a comeback with the rise of the sartorial movement?
B: Yes, people are slowly becoming more willing to wear interesting hats again. I am getting some interesting and varied commissions which makes me happy! Of course, Adelaide takes time to move with the currents but it usually catches up eventually.
S: That’s great to hear. It’s good that we have the Internet to draw our style inspiration from at least… even if most of Adelaide does take a while to catch on to things!
What do you like to do outside of work?
B: I’m really into swing dancing. I also enjoy hip hop dancing, and of course clothing.
S: No way! I went to my first swing class with my partner just a couple of weeks ago.
We then had a good chat about swing for a while.
To wrap up: do you have a style icon? Who?
B: Just one?
I like Dandy Wellington and Yoshi Suyama to name a couple of big inspirations.
S: Those are some unique and cool icons! It’s great when someone has icons outside the norm.
It was great to catch up with Blake, I went home having learned a lot!