How to Make Italian Gangster Hats

Written by geoffrey st. marie
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From Al Capone to Don Corleone, the appearance of the classic Italian gangster has left an indelible stamp upon the American consciousness. If the goal is a great party costume or dramatic portrayal, making the gangster hat can be accomplished with minimal purchases or costs. There are a number of products on the market that can accommodate such an effort if you're willing to do the work.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Hat felt
  • Hat block
  • Liquid starch
  • Hot water
  • Reference material (image of the hat)
  • Band material (optional)
  • Rubber gloves

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  1. 1

    Identify the type of hat. There are several different styles of hats you can choose from to invoke that classic gangster look. The most common one is the fedora. If this isn't bringing up an immediate visual, think Indiana Jones only not so dusty. Another style option is the homburg, which is different from the fedora in that none of the brim is pinched to the crown of the hat.

  2. 2

    Locate a hat block. For both the fedora and the homburg, you can find hat blocks or hat shapers on the Internet. This is probably the easiest way for you to make the hat as it provides a full, exact mould of the hat shape for you to surround with the felt. After you find the block, purchase the felt for the hat (just go to the local craft shop or fabric retailer for the latter). Wool felt is a great option for fedoras and homburgs.

  3. 3

    Immerse the felt in heated water. The Hooded Hare recommends using a gallon of water and about 2 cups of liquid starch. You can find basic liquid starch in the detergent aisle of your grocery store or even make it at home with cornstarch, water and lemon juice. Make sure that the felt is really absorbing the liquid thoroughly. You can tell it is when it begins to stretch easily. Now remove the felt and add the glue/starch to that liquid. Return the felt to the water and work it into the new mixture. Remember the water should be hot, but only hot enough that you can stand it with rubber gloves on.

  4. 4

    Place the felt on the shaper/block. Once you put the hat felt on the block, work it, pull it and stretch it until it conforms to the shape of the block. Take your time with this and be thorough. Hooded Hare suggests applying a rubber band or similar element around the base of the block to keep the felt in position.

  5. 5

    Spray the entire hat and allow it to dry. Use about a cup of the starch (not mixed with water here) to cement the hat in form. You can place the glue into a conventional spray bottle to enhance the evenness of the application. Use the entire bottle's worth of starch. You want to give the hat plenty of time to dry and solidify into your fedora or homburg. Plan on at least 24 hours for this process.

  6. 6

    Add decorations. Fedoras and homburgs of the gangster age were often adorned with other decorations, particularly ribbons that matched or complimented the dominant colour of the felt used for the remainder of the hat. You can probably find adequate ribbon for this at the same store where you purchased the felt. The ribbon should be wound around the entire base of the hat above the brim. These can be made out of fabrics such as linen or cotton. Making a bow is optional.

Tips and warnings

  • Before picking a hat felt, you may want to match it against the colour or fabric of the suit that will accompany it. This will make for a more complete and perhaps authentic look.

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