Noble resident makes mark with his hat making skills

Sunday, November 28th 2004, 5:39 pm
By: News On 6

NOBLE, Okla. (AP) _ They may be a little rougher than some, but Fred Schafer's hands have crafted what he calls some of the finest ``utilitarian pieces of clothing'' the world has ever seen.

A master hatter, Schafer's career began nearly 30 years ago in Nashville and has blossomed into a world-class specialization you can bet money could never be replicated by a machine. He worked at the Oklahoma City Stockyards and at various clothing outfitters before opening shop on Main Street in Noble with his wife, Sally, a nurse by profession.

``A good hat is made to the head and absolutely, nobody's head is the same,'' he said. ``A hat should fit like a glove, perfect. I don't do any of that small, medium, large stuff. If it fits, it fits.''

A Noble resident for a little over two years, Schafer's work has found its way to the heads of many including General Norman Schwarzkopf, both President Bushes _ ``they call them 41 and 43,'' _ musicians Toby Keith, Travis Tritt, Terri Clark, Eddie Montgomery, Charlie Daniels and Steven Tyler, and even Steve Forbes of Forbes Magazine; he makes each one special.

From fedoras and top hats to bowlers, ``real wild, rocker hats'' and cowboy hats, the Schafers custom make each one.

Though his clients range from ``real picky cowboys'' to cancer patients, Schafer said the quality to detail is the same.

``There's no way you can mass produce something like this and make it be of quality,'' Schafer said. ``And I can tell you, I charge the best price and give the best hat I know of, and that's the honest to God truth.''

The process of hat-making begins even before the customers enter the door or send in their order, Schafer said. First, he prepares the 20, 50, 80 or 100 percent Beaver felts using steam and a secret process you can be sure he's holding onto.

Once customers contact him, he finds out what color, shape and look they are going for. Then, if in person, he measures their head and draws their head's unique shape on a piece of paper.

Then comes the shaping, and later his wife hand-stitches in the hat's lining and adorning ribbons or decoration _ a three- or four-week process generally. Schafer said his hats should last a lifetime.

``With halfway decent care, they should last indefinitely,'' he said. ``But if you run over or shoot them or your horse takes a chunk out of the brim, well, they don't last that long.''

Schafer's felt hats are priced from $200 up, with custom orders and gift certificates available.

Additionally, Schafer can custom-make Panama straw hats and restore old hats, removing much of the sweat marks and wear and tear that accumulates over time.

Schafer said though his career has spanned nearly three decades and multiple states, he's confident his modest Noble business is expanding nearly every day.

I don't have to hardly advertise,'' he said. ``People wearing them out is really my advertising. People ask Where did you get that and suddenly they're calling me too, it's just word of mouth.''