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How a Port Coquitlam garage became a workshop for men seeking stylish fedora hats

Robert Gault has found a following for his handmade stetsons and fedoras and has turned his garage into a studio for making custom hats; does this signal hats are becoming more popular among men?

Johnny Depp wears them.

So does former U.S. president Barack Obama.

And pop singer Pharrell Williams made a name for himself wearing stylish, oversized fedoras.

But for Port Coquitlam man Robert Gault the celebrity whose style of hat he first tried to copy was Frank Sinatra, who wore a natty, small-brimmed trilby.

“I bought my first hat when I was somewhere around 13, and I’m sure it was wool, I’m sure I didn’t pay very much for it — a rat pack Frank Sinatra hat,” recalled Robert Gault, now 72 and retired.

Today, Gault is a self-taught hatter who is making a name for himself among those who are bringing back the style and panache of wearing a finely made fedora.

In a garage in his Port Coquitlam townhouse, Gault has created a studio and is starting to amass a small clientele via internet connections and people he meets around town.

He has several in the works and a few repairs to do, as well.

His shelves are stocked with imported felts of beaver, vintage hats and rabbit and his work bench is stuffed with tools, a hotplate, a vintage iron, leather bindings and ribbon.

CUSTOM HAT CLASSES

Gault said he has his own collection of about 60 hats but decided to get into the hat business after watching videos and researching hat-making techniques online. 

His passion for hats soared during the pandemic and Gault scoured the internet for places to purchase animal felts, hat blocks for sizing and vintage flanges for making the brim.

“I got into this because I love hats, it brings me such joy,’ he said. “It’s a very narrow niche — hat wearers.”

His company Wolfbrae Custom Hatter has an instagram account and Gault is slowly developing clientele. He said he’d like more of his customers to be local instead of in the U.S. or other distant places that require him to build a hat, based on someone’s measurements, and then ship it.

He also gives classes on hat-making techniques, with just a few students at a time, most of whom come to him via word of mouth.

He also repairs hats, gently working the felt back into the proper shape, cleaning them and deftly removing moth bites.

It takes a couple of days to make a hat, including steaming the felt, shaping it on a hat block, adjusting the brim, stitching the lining, and making the ribbon.

However, when done the client has a custom hat that is perfectly fitted to their head.

AFFORDABLE CUSTOM HATS

While many aspire to wear a hat, and will purchase cheap knock offs or off-the rack styles with hefty price-tags, Gault wants to make hats of quality that are still reasonably priced.

Celebrities pay can pay $1,000 or more for a custom hat, Gault charges about one-third of that in Canadian dollars.

“They charge a ridiculous amount,” he said, noting that most hat-makers source their felt from the same manufacturer in Tennessee.

However, he admits that having low overhead from working in his garage gives him an advantage.

Still, he enjoys the process, flipping on a baseball game while he works or chatting with the neighbours who stop by his open door.

Gault said he’s lucky that his wife also loves hats, and the couple are often recognized for their attractive chapeaus.

“My role model was my father,” said Gault, sporting a lovely grey hat with a wide, slightly upturned brim the day the Tri-City News visited. “My father never left the house without a hat on his head”