Now is the time for all good millins to get out the felt and block, block, block. Stores in NYC already have their Fall stock on the shelves, and here at Ellen Christine Millinery, we began our Fall 08 production in March. Now that it's August, the felt, and the fur must be dealt with seriously so that there's more than two hats on the shelf for our customers to peruse and angst about.
Felt hats, basically invented in the 1600's, became a rich man's commodity because of the beaver content of the felt. For those of you who don't know this, the felting process enables animal hairs to bind together, producing a warm, dense fabric that can be shaped into flats, to make your outdoor yurt, or cones, from which we make hats. Beaver fur was the most popular and costly material, but after the poor little beavers were practically wiped out in Europe and Russia, other animals were used to create a soft, yet still dense, luxurious felt. Rabbit mostly, called hare, or lapin, was used to blend with the beaver. Minks, muskrat, any little guy with long and short hairs on his hide was recruited to add to the mix. In North America, the most prized pelts for hats were those that had been made into coats, and worn by Native Americans, and worn for a season or two. The reason for this was that the long hairs were worn away, and the underhairs were made softer through wearing. Recycling at its onset in the fur trade.The content of beaver defines the cost of the felt: the more beaver, the higher the cost of the felt, and so the higher the price of the hat.
Why am I telling you this? So that when you see a felt hat on a shelf in a shop, notice the content. Wool felt does not bind as well, but is practical for the pricepoint . Beaver felt is still more expensive, and comes in a variety of finishes. We like to use it because of it's maleability, touch, and I think a hat should be an investment: you get more bang for the buck from beaver.
And no, that is not a mantra for the call girls of the world!