The Best Hat Made | Optimo Hat Co.
14 February 2019
Located near the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Dearborn Street in the historic Monadnock Building, just a few blocks from 1000M, the prestigious Optimo Hat Company promises to deliver one thing and one thing only: the best hat made. The hats of Optimo could be considered artifacts of a bygone era…when men wore suits and women wore skirts as their daily wardrobe. As such, the classically constructed hats of Optimo may seem a bit out of place with the modern day’s more casual leanings, but it seems that exquisite craftsmanship never goes out of style.
Optimo was founded by owner Graham Thompson in 1995, but the tradition of these meticulously crafted hats goes back in time. From a young age, Thompson discovered an appreciation for the sophisticated garb found on men in film noir pictures of the 40s and 50s, as well as the elegance of the hats sported by iconic Hollywood movie stars. His love for this style, the hats in particular, led him to Johnny’s Hat Shop on the city’s South Side, owned and operated by legendary hat maker Johnny Tyus. Thompson used to visit the shop regularly to purchase hats and observe Tyus’ craftsmanship.
Suffering from poor health, Tyus planned to retire in 1995, when he received a visit from the recent college grad, Thompson. Thompson was dismayed at the thought of Tyus going out of business. Tyus offered to, as a last favor, sell Thompson his equipment AND teach him everything he knew about hat making before he retired. To help expand his business while remaining true to traditional hat making methods, Thompson traveled all over the U.S. and cities in Europe in search of manufacturing equipment, blocks and other tools from defunct hatters.
Today, Optimo Hat Company is the last bespoke hat maker in Chicago and one of the last in the country. Their clientele ranges from locals to out-of-town and international customers. The hats in the 1930s era film Public Enemies, largely shot in Chicago, were all custom made by Optimo, with star of the film Johnny Depp becoming a fan of the company and keeping many of his character’s hats for himself. The company has been tapped to create headwear for other period films such as Road to Perdition and J. Edgar. Other celebrity clientele include actor Tom Hanks and blues legends Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker (who has a hat named after himself). These expertly crafted pieces start around $500 but can cost up to several thousand dollars, depending on material choice, weave count, braid quality and custom options. Though pricey, they should be considered investments, as they are designed to last a lifetime.
Beauty seekers with an appreciation for high quality traditional craftsmanship should visit Optimo.com to learn more about the company and the variety of customizable hat options they have to offer — or just stop by the shop located at 51 W. Jackson Boulevard in the lobby of the Monadock Building. Open Monday-Saturday, 10:00am – 5:00pm.