The Harlem Hatter feat. Marc Williamson
There's something exciting happening in Harlem, on the corner of 121st and St. Nicholas.
Harlem has always been a neighborhood filled with confident self expression and youth-driven fashion trends. When I first got there in 2005, as a wide-eyed freshman, it was a style mecca in its own right. Iconic items like 6" Timberland boots, Air Force One sneakers (called "uptowns") and oversized snorkel coats carried certified street-cred, and in some cases could save a little white Canadian kid from getting jumped. This was back when dudes were tying the front of their oversized jean hems under the bows of their shoelaces; shout-out to those who remember that.
As men's style continues to make strides back toward traditional tailoring and long-term fashion, there is a new wave of gentlemen providing a more mature aesthetic than Jimmy Jazz or Dr. Jays.
Leading that charge is Marc Williamson of FlameKeepers Hat Club. This is his story and his advice on finding a great hat, developing your own style, and creating your own lane.
1. On Personal Style Exploration
"I grew up in New York City... Born and reared in Queens, but went to school in Harlem from grades 1 through 12. So I grew up in both places. Early on, I always wanted to look/dress different and that was a product of me expressing myself as well as not having the money to follow and keep up with trends.
I've gone from pseudo prep, to full blown hip-hop, to more dressy attire (ties and vests), to where I am right now (some kind of combination)...and I certainly don't believe I'm finished."
2. On Finding Your Lane
"Before being a hatter I had several different jobs...land surveying, being a messenger, telemarketing, etc. I also had formed an independent record label (pre-internet of course).
What led me to the hat business was destiny. I was a college student who needed a part time job. I had 3 interviews scheduled one day, the first one was at a hat shop and I got hired on the spot as a stockboy."
"When I began my own start-up, everything changed. My 20+ years in the hat business (at the iconic JJ Hat Center in NYC) meant nothing to the people that I was trying to acquire leases from.
A lot of people didn't believe in the business opportunity of a traditional "Hat Shop". My business plan, financials and credit were all up to par but I still got rejected by two building owners. Fortunately, I came across two (very) young men who saw my vision and were willing to take a chance on me.
I will be forever grateful to those gentleman."
"As an entrepreneur, the key is to continue to believe in yourself and your vision. Study the market you want to invade and study the players that are winning in that market or similar markets. Figure out how you can offer something different to that market.
Have HIGH standards. Even if you can't be who you want to be business-wise at the beginning, fine-tune your operation and grow into the beast you are destined to become. Everybody has to start somewhere."
3. On Buying a Great Hat
"When investing in a hat, think of it as an investment in yourself, literally. By this I mean invest in a piece of headwear that makes you feel good. A hat or cap that, when you have it on, you feel that your "game" is elevated. That piece can cost $85 or it might cost $700, depending on who you are and how you feel about yourself...
I would also say try to invest in a hat that can withstand the elements. The more you pay for it, the easier it should bounce back from being rained on, snowed on, sat on, etc. I gauge the quality of a hat by how well it can withstand inclement weather. Finishes and fancy trimming don't mean much to me in that regard.
Wide brimmed hats are popular at the moment as far as trendy hats go... Wider brims and bolder colors are strong right now, but again, it's more important that you feel great when wearing it and that it makes sense with your overall style. That's the only way to find a hat that you will reach for daily."
If you're not sure where to start, check out our guide to men's hat styles. Or, better yet, visit an experienced hatter like Marc for a personal recommendation. Like a great tailor, a great hatter is filled with knowledge and experience that you could not replicate.
For example, when we visited the shop in Harlem a few weeks ago, I asked Marc to pick-out just one hat for me... He picked a hat that I probably wouldn't have considered (a light tan beaver fur with a medium-brim) and it was an instant favorite. I don't know if I can pull-off the tophat, though... I'll leave that one to the professionals.
Thanks, as always, for reading and special thanks to Marc for participating!
Yours in style,