"There was a time you couldn't find a man without a hat on," said Keith Christmas, owner of Alexander Hats in uptown's Brevard Court. "Now that is a gentleman."
|Christmas, in his shop|
"This is what I do. I just love hats," said Christmas, who started his store in Charlotte seven years ago. He rattles off different styles as he walks around his shop, showing them to visitors: Homburg, fedora, derby, Aspen, Panama, ivy.
Christmas transforms raw felt into hats for clients, shaping, stitching, and tacking on sweatbands and ribbons and stiffening the material into a finished hat by hand.
He learned the hat-making trade in New York, after he and some neighborhood friends who were out causing trouble broke a shop-owner's window. Christmas was 13, and the man told his dad he would call the police unless Christmas paid for the damage. The man owned a hat shop, and Christmas got hooked.
After working for Toyota for years, Christmas wanted to start his own business. The hat business felt right.
He knows that styles have changed, that most men these days are going around bare-headed or in baseball caps. John F. Kennedy was the first president not to wear a hat, and since then, no president has been inaugurated in a hat. "Ever since that, the country went downhill in a handbasket," said Christmas. "Maybe we need to go back to the traditions."
But Christmas said he still does good business, selling to "hat people." He offers young men who trade in their baseball caps $50 to get them into their first real hat; he's making four custom hats for a man in Rio de Janeiro. "I've been open seven years," he said. "Somebody's buying something."
Listening to Christmas, who can guess your hat size accurately when you walk in the door, it's hard not to believe in the transformative power of the hat. "How do you stand out from the crowd? A hat is a statement all unto itself," said Christmas. "If you get the right hat, everything changes. When you wear a hat, you're a different man, brother."
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