How to Block a Hat

By , June 19, 2015

Those who live, work, and play outdoors know that a good brimmed hat provides shade from sun or protection from rain and snow. For many, a hat is not so much a fashion statement as survival gear. If you own a brimmed hat, learn how to shape, or block it.

I am reminded of this topic after buying a cloth sunhat while outside for Aly’s graduation. I got it from a traveling display at a Costco. I asked the salesperson attending it whether or not it could be blocked. She had no idea, which is not surprising. Most people don’t know how to block a hat. When we flew to Juneau, I stuffed it in my checked baggage, from which it emerged with an unsightly wobble in the brim. When we got home, I tried re-blocking the  brim, and returned it to its original shape in no time. With that in mind, I’ll pass my “secrets” on to you.

Aly models my palm leaf sun hat. Fresh out of storage, the brim is too flat. The next day I sprayed the front of the brim with water, shaped it, then wore it in the sun to dry. (Photo: Mark Zeiger)

Aly models my palm leaf sun hat. Fresh out of storage, the brim is too flat. The next day I sprayed the front of the brim with water, shaped it, then wore it in the sun to dry. (Photo: Mark Zeiger)

The hat as ordered from the Crazy Crow Trading Company (Photo: Crazy Crow Trading Co.).

The hat as ordered from the Crazy Crow Trading Company (Photo: Crazy Crow Trading Co.).

Most hats, whether made from felt, straw, or canvas, can be shaped to suit the wearer’s needs and style. Not every hat shape works for an individual’s face; blocking adjusts a hat to complement one’s looks.

Hat needs vary as well. In rain country, water shedding shapes are more important than maximized shading, which is vital in arid regions. In Texas, where hats are often an accessory to formal wear, most people prefer a more elegant blocking over a

The ability to block a hat increases its usefulness, longevity and value, and makes it more comfortable to wear.

All brimmed hats begin life as a basic shape, a cylindrical head cavity of varying height called a “crown,” and a flat rim, or “brim” in varying widths. The style of each individual hat comes from the blocking—everything from a simple farmer’s sun hat to the many varieties of cowboy hats, to Indiana Jones’s fedora, or even an American colonial-era tricorner “cap.” Learning to block one’s own hat allows a hat owner to restore a damaged blocking, or adjust it to a new style or use.

Once one learns to block, a single hat can be shaped to a variety of widely different styles and uses during its life. Further, hats can be found more cheaply and easily. If one likes the feel or color of a hat, but not its style, one can change it to a more suitable shape without help.

Blocking a hat is surprisingly easy:

First, wet your hat completely. I like to use the sink sprayer, or hold it under a shower nozzle. Don’t over-saturate it, but do make sure that it is all wet.

While wet, mold the hat into the shape you’d like by pinching ridges and denting clefts with the edge of your hand. You’ll quickly discover that it’s easy to make a hat look “right” on the crown, with whatever dimples, rims, or ridges suit you best. Be gentle but firm. While it’s wet, you’ll have plenty of time to experiment with different shapes. Work with a mirror, so you can try it on to make sure our new style suits the shape of your face. Mold the brim to your needs, keeping in mind shading and water shedding qualities.

When you find the shape you like, handle the hat gingerly to avoid changing the shape further. Set it to air dry as soon as you can, being careful not to let the weight of the hat change anything. I’ve watched for years for a wig mannequin to dry my hat on, to hold the brim off of surfaces so it doesn’t sag and reshape. They’re surprisingly hard to come by, so I often set it on a soccer ball to dry. If the day is warm, I sometimes just put the hat on and go about my business. This keeps my head cool as the moisture evaporates, and also ensures that the hat is shaped specifically to my head.

Now you can spruce up your hat when you pull it out of the closet. You can pack it when you travel and reshape it when you arrive. If your hat loses shape in heavy rain or from a dunking, you can put it back in order. You might even make money shaping hats for those who haven’t yet realized how simple it is!

For photos of other hats that I’ve blocked a bit more radically, see Homestead Haberdashery.

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