The eastern edge of the Kansas Plains seems like an unlikely place to find one of the last remaining hatters in the United States. Jack Kellogg, better known as "Hatman Jack," admits he probably would have been bucking rivets in Wichita's thriving aviation industry if it weren't for several factors. His love of vintage fashion, history and movies, plus a hard-working Midwestern work ethic and a hefty dose of good timing have kept him in business for more than 40 years.

Since starting in the hat trade at the age of 17, he's fitted the likes of Jane Seymour, Merle Haggard and Luciano Pavarotti, yet still treats every customer off the street like a VIP. So, instead of bucking rivets, Kellogg is bucking the trends and keeping the art of millinery alive in an era where off-the-rack and online sales have eclipsed the personalized attention that comes with patronizing the store of a custom hat maker.

A young man in a brown vest, blue and white striped dress shirt, Buddy Holly glasses with thick black plastic frames, a black spotted bowtie, and a tan cowboy hat with a curled brim works on a black hat with steam rising all around the equipment.
Apprentice Austin Kitchens is learning the millinery trade at just a few years older than Jack Kellogg was when he got started making hats © Laura Watilo Blake / Lonely Planet

On any given day, Jack Kellogg wears many hats, but his passion is helping other men and women find their own ideal topper. It could be a fedora, trilby, pork pie, bowler or Western. But don't be fooled; Hatman Jack's is not your grandfather's hat shop, as I discovered when I wandered into the third largest hat store in the United States; it's located in Wichita's revitalized Delano District, a former cow town on the Chisholm Trail that was eventually incorporated into Wichita.

While inside, I spy a number of sharply dressed under-forties browsing through rack after rack of classic headgear, including a tall drink of water sporting a Stetson Silverbelly Open Road — a dress Western. "That hat is as hip as hip can be," Kellogg says about the style worn by U.S. presidents Eisenhower, Truman and Johnson, not to mention a slew of actors, such as Jackie Gleason in Smokey and the Bandit, Harvey Keitel in From Dusk until Dawn and Owen Wilson in The Royal Tennenbaums. "Hats, in general, are cool again."

Jack Kellogg stands in the background surrounded by top hats, some decorated with steampunk accessories
From Merle Haggard's classic cowboy hats to something more akin to Stevie Nicks' iconic top hat, Hatman Jack's has something from every era © Laura Watilo Blake / Lonely Planet

Not since John Travolta was the Urban Cowboy and Harrison Ford donned his fedora for the Indiana Jones franchise at the start of Kellogg's career has there been such an uptick in hats for men — and we're not talking ball caps, "which aren't hats, by the way." Kellogg says millennial buyers are driving the latest hat craze with personal tastes that run the gamut. "Hipsters are buying retro stuff like conservative Western and fedoras. Those work well with guys wearing the big beards."

Women are also buying headwear. Flat-brimmed hats, like the kind Boy George or Annie Hall would wear back in the day, are popular now. And while Hatman Jack's also sells an assortment of top hats, Kellogg says the Steampunk look is waning. "It was brief, but it was so much fun to customize those hats," Kellogg says. "We did some steam generation that was really cool early on."

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Jack Kellogg stands in profile to the viewer as he adjusts a large Stetson cowboy hat in a light brown color. In the background are many wooden hat molds on shelves
Part of getting custom fitted for a hat at stores like Hatman Jack's isn't just selecting a style and the right size, but also learning how to wear it with pizzazz © Laura Watilo Blake / Lonely Planet

The right way to wear a hat

Customization is the area in which Kellogg shines. The true magic of millinery begins in Hatman Jack's workroom in the back of the store. That's where Kellogg and his talented staff do all the fine-tuning using equipment that dates back more than a century: hat blocks to determine the height of the crown; a flanger to give the brim its desired curve; a rounding jack to trim the brim's width the same amount all the way around; plus a steamer to form the hat's felt at each stage of the process.

Knowing what to do on each hat is not all wizardry, Kellogg concedes, "but it does require an artistic eye for design, form and color and how all of those things interact with faces and body shapes. Unfortunately, the fashion industry gets it wrong a lot of the time. "There's a tendency to put women in hats that are way too big for their frame," Kellogg says. "It's the hatter's job to proportion hats to a person's face."

The properly fitted chapeau on a man or a woman can make someone look taller, younger, thinner or nicer, but the wrong one can have the opposite effect. The position of the hat can have an impact, too, as Kellogg demonstrates on himself. He pushes his hat du jour — a town and country fedora — higher up on his own forehead.

Jack Kellogg stands behind a female customer with short blond hair as she tries on a black and cream straw hat. He has a look of confident, kind expertise on his face and is gesturing as if they've found just the right angle. The customer's face is one of pleased surprise as she sees how the hat accentuates her facial features.
Wichita might be better known for aerospace manufacturing than custom hats, but Hatman Jack's is still going strong © Laura Watilo Blake / Lonely Planet

"If I wore it like this, you would never take me seriously," he says just before drawing the hat low and straight cross his brow. "Now, I look tough and totally unapproachable. You don't want to talk to me."

When he cocks the hat to the side ever so slightly and brings the brim up higher, he says, "See? The asymmetry of the angle complements my face."

Everything from the height and shape of the crown to the width and curve of the brim should be adjusted to fit each individual. People with a full face should avoid a full crown, while older people benefit from a brim the rolls up. "It's like getting a face lift," Kellogg says. "But I never verbalize it that to the customer. I just do it. So much of what I do is unspoken."

No matter what, Kellogg doesn't want a hat to leave his store unless it looks right on the customer. "All I have to sell is my integrity," he says. "If I were to recommend something that looks stupid, it would be obvious." 

Steam rises around a piece of hat-making equipment with a bright red frame. In the background, Jack Kellogg and Austin Kitchen work on other hats and can be seen just beyond the silver metal components of the old finger blocker machine, which look a little like piano keys.
Jack Kellog and his team make hats the old fashioned way, by hand, and with a little steam © Laura Watilo Blake / Lonely Planet

How Hatman Jack's became hatter to the stars

Because of his breadth of knowledge, keen attention to detail and good marketing savvy, Kellogg has developed a big following beyond Wichita. "I used to promote myself in costume-design journals in Los Angeles," he says. "And being featured in the national press maybe helped, too." 

It wasn't long before the movie industry took notice. His work has appeared in his films and television shows, such as The Quick and the Dead, The Secret Life of Bees, The Road to Valhalla and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

"It's terribly exciting to have that kind of visibility," says Kellogg, who fell in love with hats by watching Humphrey Bogart and Roy Rogers grace the silver screen. "But it's also hard work. I would have to stay up all night to finish the work by their deadline."

Jack Kellog, owner of Hatman Jack's in Wichita, stands in a black apron and dark button down shirt with an easy, comfortable smile in front of a wall of hats hung on pegs.
Owner Jack Kellogg, better known as Hatman Jack, has been making hats for almost half a century © Laura Watilo Blake / Lonely Planet

Hatman Jack's also has a steady stream of recording artists that stop by the Wichita shop while they are on tour. Luciano Pavarotti, B.B. King, Alan Jackson and Merle Haggard have all paid a visit. "Merle Haggard intrinsically knew what a hat should look like while on stage. He was probably one of my favorites because I learned so much from him." 

You don't have to be a celebrity to get star treatment at Hatman Jack's; the trained staff can help you find the right hat, whether it's $25 or $400. The store is located at 607 W. Douglas Avenue in Wichita's Historic Delano District, where you can also find a retro candy shop, a gastropub with the largest bourbon selection in Kansas and an axe-throwing venue within walking distance.

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