It’s not that Mike Miller has practiced his craft all that long. Or that he absorbed his artisan skills sitting at the feet of a master. Or that he trained at a prestigious trade school. But the guy sure knows how to make hats—exquisite, hand-crafted vintage- and Western-style hats.
Yep, Miller’s an old-school, custom hatmaker — the only one of his kind in town. He’s self-taught and quality-obsessed, a throwback to times when everybody, every day wore hats for form and function. “There’s not too many things new when it comes to hats,” says Miller. “They’ve been around for thousands of years.”
Hats can be measured by multiple standards: size, style, materials, and detail. For Miller, self-pride is directly proportional to his investment in a hat’s finish. “I do some of the detail work that nobody does anymore. I didn’t invent the details,” says Miller, “I took them from some of the vintage hats I’ve worked on over the years. [There are] some neat tricks. Sometimes they had special machinery that produced the tricks, and I don’t have those machines. But I’ve figured out ways to do what I do.”
Most premium hatmakers source their felt from the same vendors. Beaver felt trumps rabbit. The “killing” process used to age felt is key to differences found in the texture of the final product. Water soaks versus dry blocking lends degrees of stiffness or softness to a hat. Details like sweatbands, ribbons, and stitching all contribute to the elegance of the final product.
Miller has refined his approach by merging techniques and materials. The result is hats that match the quality of the best custom hatmakers and exceed the quality of premium factory-produced chapeaus, yet cost hundreds of dollars less. No small trick.
Miller is also a big believer in a customer’s choice. Unless a buyer requests Miller’s view on matters such as style and color, he lets their personal tastes reign over his own opinions. “In the end, it’s about the smile on their face when they put the hat on their head,” he says. “That’s what I’m after. I’m after their happiness.”