Top Shops: A Not-So-Mad Hatter

  • Photo by Chris Lake
    Photo by Chris Lake
  • Shaun Tolson

In high school, Graham Thompson wasn’t like most of his friends. He loved film noir (he still does), but it was more than just the memorable performances by James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, and others that lured him in. It was the culture and, more specifically, the era’s sense of style. For men, that style revolved around a hat.

Thompson began importing Panama hats from Ecuador while he was finishing high school, which eventually led him to Johnny’s Hat Shop, a small custom hatmaking enterprise run by Johnny Tyus on the South Side of Chicago. Thompson visited the shop often, but in 1995, soon after he finished college, Thompson learned that Tyus had plans to retire. The young hat enthusiast couldn’t bear the thought of Tyus’s shop closing its doors, so he transitioned from customer to apprentice, learning the necessary tools of the trade to keep the business alive.

When Thompson took over the shop later that year, he renamed it Optimo (www.optimohats.com) and took steps to continue Tyus’s legacy. “I got to see and work on high-quality hats, and I had his customer base—some of these guys were 80 or 90 years old and grew up wearing great hats,” Thompson recalls. “They really understood what a great hat was. That was one of the greatest benefits that I could have had.”

Today, Thompson makes standard and bespoke hats in a variety of styles and materials, which can range in price from $400 to $20,000. “When you think of great American style, a hat is just one of those things that’s timeless,” he says. “It’s part of who I am and who my customers are, and I couldn’t imagine a life that didn’t include wearing hats. It’s a big part of my style and it’s something that I love.” 

From Around the Web...
These four designer sweaters with graphic patterns make the everyday knit brighter and bolder…
Hip new sneakers from John Lobb, Berluti, and Common Projects infuse high fashion with casual style…
Bombers are back for yet another season, and the classic jackets are more stylish than ever…
Your go-to guide to who’s who on the celebrated street of bespoke and made-to-measure suits…
Photo by Jorge Monedero
The future is now on Savile Row as fresh faces and philosophies greet a new era of tailoring…
Accessories in fall’s strongest color offer a polished look for every wardrobe…
Photography by: Harry Carr, Creative Direction by: Jen Brill
The founder of Architecture at Large helps bring the Korean indie eyewear brand to the United...
The top new trends from the men's fashion runways, just in time for a fall wardrobe refresh...
Fall’s fashions are elegantly dressed down but just as well suited for nights out…
The designer premieres his new retail location with an exhibition of cityscapes by Karsten Staiger…