Somewhere between Madison Square Park and Koreatown, on an easily forgettable stretch of 5th Avenue between 31st and 32nd streets, stands New York City's oldest hat shop. Open since 1911, J.J. Hat Center provides a shopping experience rarely found in the city these days.
As soon as you walk in, you're transported to another time. Unlike many of the over-designed and over-contrived shops (or "boutiques," as many would preferred to be called) that have become the norm in today's retail landscape, J.J. Hat Center is a simple space filled with row upon row of hats—and interesting characters. I first became aware of the shop years ago when I was accessories editor at the now-defunct magazine Cargo. I learned early on that whenever the fashion director asked for hats, J.J. should be the first place I called. But I always viewed it as a resource more than a destination, until one recent Saturday, when I decided it was time for me to buy a new hat.
One of the main reasons I love this shop so much is the people who work there; you can instantly sense the knowledge, expertise, and passion they have for their products. It seems to me that they place equal value on the experience of buying a hat as they do on making the sale. Gabriel—my "Hat Consultant"—slowly took the time to explain the subtle differences in the materials, crowns, brims, and finishes of each hat I expressed an interest in. After trying on a few and chatting further with Gabriel, I decided on a gray Borsalino Classico with an unfinished brim. Before heading to the register, Gabriel brought me over to their steam station so he could clean, fit, and shape my hat. While he perfectly formed my hat with the steam, he also offered some great tips for care, such as storing the hat crown-down to maintain its shape. I walked out confident and satisfied with my new purchase and with a new level of respect for the shop. It was a truly enjoyable experience at a true New York institution.
—Eugene Tong, senior style editor at Details