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Nathaniel’s Custom Hats

A chapeau of one’s own.

By August 2016Comments

Photograph by Jeff Wilson

When Nate Funmaker first saw the former livery stable that sits just off Georgetown’s historic downtown square, he knew he’d found the perfect place for his next workshop. For 22 years Funmaker had been running his hat-making business, Nathaniel’s Custom Hats, in Mancos, Colorado, a one-stoplight town that’s home to more cattle than people. But he and his wife, Kerrie, had grown tired of traveling from horse trade show to horse trade show to make ends meet, so they decided to move to a more populated area. Since 30 percent of their custom orders came from Texas, they set their sights on the Lone Star State. They were also looking for a new storefront with character, like their Colorado shop, with its plank floors and pressed ceilings. Georgetown’s old livery stable, built in the 1800s, more than fit the bill, and Funmaker officially opened his Texas outpost this past April.

Funmaker sanding a hat to give it a more finished look.
Funmaker sanding a hat to give it a more finished look.

Photograph by Jeff Wilson

Funmaker, who comes from a large family of artists (he’s the tenth of eleven children and has three kids himself), is a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe of Wisconsin and started making hats in 1994. “Anyone can pull off a hat if it’s made just for them,” he says. In fact, his favorite part of the process is personalizing a hat so that it’s specific to an individual customer—or silver-screen character, as the case may be. Funmaker has designed hats for a number of movies, including The Indian in the Cupboard, RV, and Wild Wild West. “People often ask me to write a how-to on making hats,” he says. “They want to know ‘How long do you iron it?’ ‘How long do you steam it?’ But there’s no one answer, because every hat and each person you’re making one for is different. You have to go off script to find the right hat for someone.”

Funmaker in his shop wearing a Sahara Rodeo ($650) made of beaver and rabbit.
Funmaker in his shop wearing a Sahara Rodeo ($650) made of beaver and rabbit.

Photograph by Jeff Wilson

Q&A With Nate Funmaker

What are some of the most surprising requests people have made over the years?

A customer asked us to copy a hat from the movie Geronimo, but he didn’t want the hat to look like it did in the beginning of the movie. He wanted it to look like the character’s hat by the end of the movie, so it was fun to make it look aged. I made hats for Jack Nicholson in the film Mars Attacks, and they had to be as outlandish as his character. Each hat—one red and one royal blue—had a silver band of engraved dollar signs.

Personalizing a hat to an individual’s head is key to your process. What are the different ways you tailor a hat?

When making a custom hat, you have to start with the size and shape of the individual’s head. But it’s just as important to match the style of the hat to the person and how they intend to use it: to work, to hunt or fish, or for a night out. You have to find a color that warms their complexion and complements their coloring. You have to determine the right shape for the crown by considering their face shape, since you want to balance the crown and brim to the stature of the wearer. When all these elements come together, you have not only a hat that’s uniquely theirs but one that they will be comfortable wearing.

An antique conformateur, which dates to 1895, used to measure a customer’s head.
An antique conformateur, which dates to 1895, used to measure a customer’s head.

Photograph by Jeff Wilson

You’ve been in Texas for just a few months, but what parallels are you noticing between the Texas and Colorado hat cultures?

Like in Mancos, there is a great fusion of cowboy and city, rancher and businessman, and everything in between. These are people who can appreciate the quality of our hats and the work that goes into making each one as unique as the person it is made for.

If you were a hat, which would you be?

I’d be a Gus style, also known as a Montana crease, but with a twist. It’s an Old West look with a tall crown and a wide brim, but I would make it a little more relaxed and worn looking so it looks like I’ve already broken it in. I don’t get to make this hat very often, but I enjoy it when I do. It’s a hat that makes a statement while still holding on to the classic lines of the older styles.

For more information, go to nateshats.com.

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