How to Take Care of a Hat

by Brett on December 4, 2013 · 34 comments

in Accessories, Dress & Grooming


A few years ago, it seems like classic hats (fedoras and trilbies and the like) were making a comeback — no doubt due to one of our very first posts: “Bringing Back the Hat.” As with all fads, it seemed to fade away as quickly as it arrived, leaving classic hats right back to where they were before — worn by men like myself who like the tradition and the way they look and really don’t care about whether they’re “cool” or not.

Partial responsibility for the fizzling of the hat resurgence can be traced to the fact that men starting picking up their lids at retailers like Target. While they could be had for cheap, they looked cheap, with none of the classic handsomeness that made hats of old such an attractive accessory in the first place. A hat is like a watch or a suit — the kind of thing you want to shell out a few more bucks for in order to get something that’s top quality. Don’t cut corners when buying a hat — visit a local shop dedicated to hats, find one that looks great on you and works for your mug, and buy the best. Sure it costs more initially, but by taking good care of your hat it can last your whole life, ultimately giving you more bang for your buck than something that looked bad from the get-go and is going to fall apart in five years.

Here are some tips for increasing the longevity of your hat and keeping it looking fresh, clean, and sharp.

Storing a Hat

When putting your hat down on a flat surface, lay it upside down on its crown, not on its brim. Leaving it on its brim will cause it to flatten out and change shape.

You can also hang your hat on a hat rack or peg. Make sure the peg or hook is wide enough to not create a dimple in the hat. If your hook seems too sharp, cut a slit in a tennis ball and slip it over the hook to create a wider platform. Do not store your hat on a peg for long periods of time as the force of gravity pulling on the hat can change its shape.

If you plan on storing your hat for an extended period of time, then it’s best to place the hat in a hat box which supports both the brim and crown. Store the box in a cool, dry place, as both heat and moisture can damage your hat. But beware of moths making a snack of your topper — use lavender or cedar (a good, manly smell) to keep these buggers at bay.

Cleaning a Hat

Loose dirt. If your felt hat is looking tired and dirty, take a brush to it. Use a horsehair brush, as those made with nylon bristles can be too abrasive for felt. A soft shoeshine brush can do the trick or you can buy brushes especially made for hats. Get a brush with light-colored bristles for use on a light-colored hat and vice versa for dark hats, as the color of the bristles can sometimes transfer to the hat. Gently brush your hat with the nap in small, counter-clockwise motions.

Even when you can’t see the dirt, give your felt hat a regular brushing; it will prolong its life.

Dust. Wipe with a slightly damp cloth.

Hair and fuzz. If your hat is covered with pet hair or fuzz, wipe it gently with a piece of tape. Wrap it around your fingers, sticky side out, and sweep it gently across the hat.

Smudges and stains. For a stain on a felt hat, start off by taking a gum eraser or a rubber sponge (like a make-up sponge) to the mark or smudge. There are also sponges made especially for hats and dry cleaning sponges can do the trick as well.

If the stain or smudge persists, try a cleaner made for hats like Scout Hat Cleaner. You spray it on, wait for it to dry into a powder, and then brush it off. For a grease stain, you can also try rubbing some cornstarch into it and then brushing it off.

For a straw hat, use ivory soap and a wet cloth and gently rub the stain.

Prolonging the Life of Your Hat

Handle it by the brim, not the crown. I’ll admit that I like doffing my hat by grabbing it by the crown. It just looks cool. But unfortunately, while it may be suave, it’s no good for your hat. All that pinching will weaken the crown’s ability to holds its shape or create a crease that can’t be fixed. Oils and dirt from your hand will also soil the hat. Take off or pick up your hat by grasping it at the front and back of the brim. Always handle your hat with clean hands to avoid transferring grime to it.

Allow wet hats to dry naturally. If you get caught in a rainstorm and your hat becomes soaked, allow it to dry naturally; artificial heat from a hair dryer or heater can distort or shrink the hat. Turn the sweatband out and place the hat on its brim on a towel to avoid creating flat spots on the crown. Shape the hat to its proper form; a wet hat will dry in the shape you leave it in.

Try to avoid ever getting a straw hat wet, as the moisture will cause the straw to swell, distorting the hat’s shape.

Never leave your hat in your hot car. Heat and sunlight can dry out, fade and shrink your hat. So don’t leave it on your dashboard or in your trunk, or sitting in front of a window at home.

When your sweatband gets wet and oily, flip it down to let it dry out. This allows the perspiration to evaporate instead of soaking into your hat.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Edward December 5, 2013 at 3:45 am

Ahh.. I haven’t found luck yet in finding a good place to buy a hat in the first place.. Lithuania (Where I live) seems to be over saturated with the sporty beanies worn by chavs, the “hip hop” hats, and the short brimmed fedora’s with rather silly patterns on ‘em… Ahh, shame..
Well, at least I’ll know how to care for one once I get it..

2 Calvin A December 5, 2013 at 7:51 am

Thanks. I bought a Stetson fedora at Bernie Utz in Seattle after I read your original article. I wear it to work a couple times a week with slacks and a tie but it’s pretty formal looking since I went with charcoal. Almost wishing I’d bought something a little lighter, maybe in a grey. Debating spending the money on a second, less formal that I might wear more.

3 Dustin December 5, 2013 at 8:41 am

I bought a fedora back in 2007 to wear in winter with my suit at work; picked it up at Hat Man Jack’s in Wichita KS. The care instructions here are just like those they gave me, always nice to see some corroboration.

4 Tim the Enforcer December 5, 2013 at 9:07 am

I got very lucky. I inherited several classic hats from my grandfather and great uncle. However, they left me no knowledge of how to care for these beauties. Thank you for the article, this was the advice I long needed. Just hope it’s not too late to save my chapeaus!

5 JB December 5, 2013 at 10:36 am

I started wearing hats once I shaved my head just to keep my bean from getting cold. My work is formal – ties every day – so I could have went with the fedora but ultimately it was the hooligan hat that worked best for me and keeping my head warm. The really cool thing is given that I’m a big weightlifter type the hooligan hat has managed to make me look both refined and kind of scary at the same time.

6 Curtis December 5, 2013 at 10:56 am

Thanks for the tips! I always hear you never show the under of your hat (bad manners) so I always laid it on its brim, with the bend at the front over the edge of my desk, to help preserve the shape.

7 Brash Nate December 5, 2013 at 10:58 am

I have 7 classic hats, 4 inherited 3 new. Thanks for the cleaning advice to help keep my kids spiffy. And in the metro Detroit area try Henry the Hatter for good stuff.

8 Micah Jones December 5, 2013 at 11:20 am

Being a regular Fedora wearer for 6 years now, I am really glad you posted this. I’ve been needing to clean mine but I didn’t know how

9 Derek December 5, 2013 at 11:26 am

I, too, have bought a few hats from Hatman Jack’s in Wichita. Jack is a great guy and provides a great service. His store is like stepping back into time with all the various styles he offers. Good column, Brett. I wear my fedoras, English walking cap, driving caps because I like the way they look.

I agree with you. Those Target/WalMart cheap-o stingy brim hats are horrible and didn’t help the resurgence of classic styles.

10 The Desert Rat December 5, 2013 at 11:39 am

Thank-You for being honest! Nothing looks cheaper (or silly) than a hat from Walmart or Target. Better to go without. You can tell if a man is wearing a good hat, just like finer clothing. You can’t look classy on the cheap — but the expense is worth it, in both how you look and feel.

11 Tim Hardy December 5, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Useful article, I have collected hats all my life and any hints are greatly appreciated.

12 Richard December 5, 2013 at 2:45 pm

I regret the day I left my fedora in the car.

13 IanVS December 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I recently stopped by Henry the Hatter in Detroit based on a recommendation in a post on a previous AoM article. I don’t have the money for a good hat yet, but I found one I like and will be saving my pennies for it. They also told me to only hold the brim when donning or removing a hat. Another helpful tip they gave is to rest the front of the hat on your forehead where you want it and then tilt the back of the hat into place. The brim should rest just above your ears. I was surprised how small differences in hats made a big difference in how they looked on my head, and the same size from different brands fit quite differently. So if possible I’d recommend to buy one locally rather than online. As far as hats going back out of style, the sales gentlemen at Henry’s said their sales have been steady, and that they are starting to sell to a wider demographic than in the past (which was 99% African American and now maybe 80%). I think perhaps trilby hats had their moment in the pop culture sun (a la Justin Timberlake), and I’m hoping as they start to fade out a more lasting resurgence towards varied quality hats will emerge.

14 Kevin December 5, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Something else I learned from a haberdasher over the summer was how to tighten up a good felt hat when it starts to get a bit loose in the weave.
1: Clean the hat as needed.
2: Have a hot steam source (boiling kettle, clothing steamer, etc) and a quick cooling source ( cold ac unit, good freezer, old CO2 bottle).
3: Heat up the areas that are loose or soft and then instantly alternate the same area with the cold application.
Good felt is made of fur with small fibers that open and close based on temperature. As the hot and cold applications open and close the fibers they will act similar to an interlocking set of cogs. When the fiber (or cog) opens it interlocks the other fibers (or cogs) around it. As the temperature changes the fibers that are now interlocked try to move back to the center of their parent strand. This causes a lockup and tightening that gives it a stiffening effect. Repeat as necessary to tighten and shape your hat as desired.

This works best with a beaver felt hat and I was told not to expect very much improvement from a hat that has mostly wool felt. Then again wool felt was never intended to give there owner much life away way.

15 Tristan December 5, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Well, this is timely. I spent this past weekend hat shopping for the perfect hat and came home with a Stetson “Open Road.” I was staring at it today and put “how to take care of a hat” on my to-do list of things to investigate. Thank you for saving the exact amount of time googling this by providing the information on your amazing site.

16 John G. December 5, 2013 at 8:10 pm

A good hat is an investment. Christmas of 2000 found me in NYC. My girlfriend at the time was a native of the city. She knew of my desire to own a fedora. A afternoon outing found us standing in front of Arnold Hatters down the street from the Transit Authority. $110 later I was the proud owner of a Stetson Gun Club fedora. It even had my initials embossed in the band. Arnold Hatters went out of business in 2009. The girlfriend took a different path in the spring of 2003. The hat is still with me. It’s been pretty much retired the past year or so. I took care of it as instructed and if I could find a hatter nearby I would have it cleaned and blocked and then bring it back into daily use. As mentioned by others, colors make a difference. Some colors are more formal than others. Brown or sage goes better with a less formal wardrobe. I took mine in sage and it wears well with my black leather bomber or my classic buffalo plaid Woolrich coat.

17 Chris December 5, 2013 at 9:40 pm

I love AOM. We need to bring back the fedora. Men’s hats are just cowboy hats and baseball caps. I like that these hat are in mainstream stores so it can become more common. Wear it proud.

18 Gallagher December 5, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Can someone tell me how to stretch the size of a fine hat. Not much, but a little. A gift, a tad to small. Can’t exchange.
Ever in Baltimore? “Hats in The Belfry”
finest to the outrageous!

19 David H December 5, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Brett, thanks for yet another great article. I live somewhat by you, OKC, are there any shops you recommend between here and Tulsa? Do you, or anyone else, have experience with any online retailers? I was looking at a Stetson Longshoreman flat cap on but am quite hesitant as the most intricate/expensive hat I’ve bought is a Yankees baseball hat from the mall…not a silly flat brim though haha, no offense to any flat brim wearers. Obviously price is subjective but what would be a target price range for a quality hat that would fit the description of this article, ie. one to keep for the better part of a lifetime? Again, thank you for keeping us supplied with many manly tips and thought provoking articles.


20 Boris December 6, 2013 at 7:00 am

Thanks for another great article. Purchasing durable quality hats definitely add some style to a casual outfit and many people do not realize the practical usefulness of wearing some hats.

21 porkchop December 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm

An inferior hat wrecks one’s image fastlier more completely even than poor language skills and imprecise keyboarding. By all means, explore hattedness on the cheap, but after finding an appropriate topper spend some money on quality and put (throw?) the starter away.
Besides keeping it clean and well formed, please learn when to don and doff the thing; ignoring basic hat-decorum reveals at least one level of jackassery in a person.

22 Steve December 6, 2013 at 3:26 pm

In Watertown, MA (greater Boston) is a large, three story factory-type building that is now offices, etc. Back in the day, it did one thing, and one thing only–cleaned and refurbished mens’ hats, hundreds a week.

Interesting language derivation: don is a contraction of “do on” and doff a contraction of “do off.”

23 Brett McKay December 6, 2013 at 3:59 pm

@David H-

I have two hats, a straw fedora and a felt fedora (seen in the pic above). I bought them both at the Brothers Hat shop here in Tulsa:

It’s owned by a guy named Red who is really nice. The fedora I bought a good number of years ago, and the felt one was a gift from my wife, so I really can’t remember what they cost.

I’d recommend staying away from online sales. It’s something you’re really going to want to try on, and going to a hat shop is a fun experience. Best of luck to you in your hat hunt!

24 David H December 7, 2013 at 12:42 pm

@Brett -
Thanks for the reply. Hopefully I can check out that shop on a day trip sometime soon. My apologies if it already exists, but maybe other readers like me could benefit from a hat buying guide? Like with the suit one a while back. Its difficult to get solid information like that when there are so many companies pushing their own, often inferior, product. Thanks again and stay safe & warm in this arctic weather we’re having.

25 Andrew December 7, 2013 at 9:56 pm

I don’t wear my fedora too often only with a suit or collared shirt. I have three kinds one short brim in black I wear it with my suit and a collared shirt, a straw fedora for summer wear, and a long brim one in black that I only wear with my suit because it looks more formal. I like to wear how the men of the past did not with t-shirts & jeans. I do have a flat cap for more casual looks I say mix up your head wear. I once heard a style guy from GQ say “caps are for boys, hats are for men”
Ditch the baseball cap and trucker hat and upgrade to something more manly and masculine.

26 Nick December 12, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Try Amazon. I just bought a grey Stetson that looks like it’s from the 40′s. They make to size. When you’re browsing the Amazon store, use ‘Fedora’ and CAREFULLY go thru them. Be sure that you look at the BRIM measurements as they may very from front (longer) to back (shorter). Merry Christmas All!

27 Dan H. December 13, 2013 at 8:57 pm

A fedora has been a part of my daily wardrobe ever since I was a young man. I appreciate AOM’s hat articles and “pro-hat” stance. This article was informative and I would like to direct those who are interested in quality hats to the best forum for hat information;

While proper hats may never again be a staple of every man’s wardrobe, there continues to be a growing trend of hat wearing.

28 Steve Black December 16, 2013 at 9:12 am

I have a question about hat care. I have a felt fedora that has been some what crushed in the crown. I have it back o the correct shape, however when I grab the crown to remove it around a lady it wants to misshae. Is there a fix or do I suck it up & buy a new one.

29 Eric Hiney December 20, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I’m glad to know I’m not alone in keeping the fedora industry alive. If you’re ever in Erie, Pa, Isaac Baker and Sons has a fine selection.

30 Kingston Perry December 22, 2013 at 8:45 am

You’ll find great custom hats made in Venice beach California by my friend Nick Fouquet. I’m wearing one right now!

31 Samuel Driver December 29, 2013 at 7:06 am

I would recommend for high quality hats. I have a deer stalker-trapper from them and it both comfortable and warm.

32 Josh January 29, 2014 at 10:53 am

A hat can make or brake an outfit. Personally I like wearing a ball cap, which isn’t to stylish, for everyday wear. I will occasionally slip on a news paper boy type hat. Anyways, great article as always.

33 David March 19, 2014 at 8:45 am

Great articles..keep them coming! Would anyone happen to know where to find vintage Borsalino’s..i.e those from the 40′s through the 60′s? I live in Italy and the new Borsalino’s ..costing $ 400 + are junk in compatison to the old ones. I have a collection and want to add to it. Also, would anyone know of a store in the US which still has the little machine that stamps the initials in gold on the leather sweatband? Italy, nobody knows what I’m talking about. thanks in advance for any help!

34 Sandra March 19, 2014 at 11:18 am

I’d recommend staying away from online sales. It’s something you’re really going to want to try on, and going to a hat shop is a fun experience. Best of luck to you in your hat hunt!

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