[photo via buffalostoryproject.com]
After our previous post about hat maker Nick Fouquet, we received numerous requests to feature Buffalo’s own Gary White from The Custom Hatter. We actually featured this Buffalo-based business way back in 2011 not soon after the blog began, and we had always wanted to stop into the store to check out the space for ourselves. Thankfully these recent requests were just the incentive we needed to stop by Gary’s shop to chat with the man himself to learn more about this small shop which has provided some of the most iconic hats of film and stage.
Gary has been in the hat making business for 45 years now and has owned his own shop for over 30. He began his career at the famous Buffalo menswear store Peller & Mure in the hat department. Moving up from a salesman to eventually a buyer for the store, after a chance meeting with the VP of Dobbs and Stetson, Gary decided he wanted to open his own hat shop. He then began a 10 year apprenticeship to learn the art of hat making by commuting from Buffalo to Lynn, Massachusetts on the weekends. During this time he began amassing his own collection of old-world hat making tools, most of which he still uses to this day including a 100 year old wooden shaping tool. Gary also boasts one of the largest collection of vintage silk ribbons used on his fedora’s which are the envy of every costume department in Hollywood.
With the various connections Gary’s made over the years (which he largely attributes to shaking everyone’s hand he has ever met) Mr. White has gone on to make hats for such famous films as Dick Tracy, Batman, Indiana Jones, Tombstone, Untouchables, Quick and the Dead, Blues Brothers, Boardwalk Empire and more. While Gary is extremely grateful and humbled by getting to work on such famous films, his true love is working with the theater. A winner of multiple Tony and Academy Awards, the theater allows Gary to truly showcase his creativity and passion for hat making. His website, www.custom-hatter.com was actually the first website for custom hats on the web. He has spoken at various seminars and lecures at Buff State, UB, Alfred University and has even given several workshops on old world craftsmanship to introduce a new generation to wold of hat making.
When Gary first started his company his was making over 2000 hats a year. While the business may have slowed over the years as styles and tastes change, Gary still creates some stunning custom pieces for his clients. He begins with a consultation in which he measures the size and shape of your head. Do you have a round, long or wide oval shaped head? As we talk he looks at me and notices I have a long oval shape and exactly guesses my hat size (7 3/8). He then inquires on what type of clothes you will be wearing with the hat, as this will dictate the overall look and style of the hat. For me, with a mixture of dress and casual, he suggest a homburg style, possibly in a dark grey or navy color to try something a little different. The height of the ribbon determines the formality of the hat, meaning the higher the ribbon sits on the hat, the more formal it is. Also, while the color of that hat is important, Gary stresses that choosing the correct color of the ribbon is essential and he even has his own signature bow he uses on many of his hats. Using some of the finest vintage materials in the world, many of which are no longer available, Gary’s true passion and love for his craft is why he has continued to make hats all these years. “If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right” he says. To meet a man this passionate about what he does after all this time is awe inspiring.
Many thanks to Gary for showing me around his shop and taking the time to speak with me. Fall is usually Gary’s busy time of year, so I highly recommend stopping into his shop, chatting with Gary about some of his amazing stories and checking out some of his historic hats for yourself. If you’re interesting in getting a custom hat made, prices usually start at $525. While this may seem expensive to some, what you are getting is a truly one of a kind piece made by a master craftsman which is sure to last you a lifetime. Check out more photos of The Custom Hatter shop below.
The Custom Hatter
1318 Broadway Street
Buffalo, NY 14212