When people meet the first thing they look at is the other person’s face.
And then their hat.
“Your hat is as important as your face,” said Parker Orms, one of the hat-making partners preparing to open a hat shop in Jackson.
Given how obvious and noticeable a hat is, Orms and partner Kyle Theret say, you might as well have one that suits you, looks good, inspires a bit of admiration and — if you’re practical — keeps your head and the weather apart.
That’s the way the new Jackson businessmen are thinking as they open Encounter Hat Co. on Gaslight Alley. Orms and Theret hope to have the shop open no later than mid-March in space previously occupied by Jackson Art Gallery.
Orms and Theret don’t just sell hats. They make them, preferably with your head right there as the perfect guide.
“We can make a hat without the person there, but we prefer somebody to be there in person,” Theret said last week as he prepared the shop space. “The process is one of the coolest parts about it. ... It makes a difference, especially with a person new to hats.”
Orms got into hat making first, inheriting the interest and the skills from his dad and grandfather. The two older men were rodeo riders and learned the art of hats and passed it on. Orms now calls himself “obsessed” with hats.
“I always wore hats,” he said. “I went around to rodeos with my dad and decided I wanted to make my own. ... It’s fun to make your own hats.”
Orms and Theret met in Europe, where Orms took a detour after a University of Colorado football career to play for the Milan Rhinos, a team in a “futball Americano” league. He and Theret, both with an interest in fashion, returned to America and drifted into the hat biz.
Orms has been doing it about five years, Theret about three, working in the Denver area by appointment and at a whiskey bar and — this past holiday season — at pop-ups in Jackson at Teton Tiger and Teton Thai.
While here they met Dorian Darwiche, a member of the family that runs Hotel Jackson and owns a variety of commercial footage, including the Jackson Art Gallery space that emptied a few months ago.
“He found us and asked if we wanted a brick-and-mortar store there,” Orms said.
Theret said they took a look and decided it would be “a perfect space.” You don’t need a lot of room, they said, and the shop’s 250 square feet was enough.
Orms and Theret were already working on a Denver store near 38th and York but decided to go big. When the two shops open it will be Orms in Denver and Theret in Jackson.
The most popular styles are the fedora and the cowboy hat, usually the cowboy hat style called a “cattleman,” the partners said.
It gets more complicated: After you have a basic style you have to decide on the style of the brim, just how wide, and how the brim is curled. Among your choices for a brim are “flat,” the “soft tuck” the “taco” or the “pencil curl.”
The hats are made from felt, often the beaver felt that’s been the favorite since the 19th century, but also wool, rabbit and blends. The usual is the traditional — that is, the brown, the black and the tan. But in a modern world your hat could be pink or turquoise.
Making a hat takes from 30 minutes to an hour. A hat might cost anywhere from about $200 to $2,000, but about $500 is the usual. To people buying a first hat that might seem high, but it’s normal and no surprise among people who wear and appreciate handmade hats, Orms and Theret said.
“In Denver we’re introducing people to the market a lot of times,” Theret said. “But with people who know the market, they want to see the $1,000 hats. ... They think that’s a steal with the quality of our hats we could charge a lot more.”
The market is also split between those who want a hat for style and a hat that works. Not that old-style hat-wearers don’t pay attention to the look of their hats, but they also expect a hat to do more than match their shirt.
Theret said the hat world today is “filled with a lot of millennials who look at hats in a different way, in a modern fashion sense rather than function.”
But Orms said there are still many people whose first thought is that they want a hat “that keeps your head warm and out of the weather.”
Encounter Hat Co. is at the Deloney Avenue side of Gaslight Alley, next to Mursell’s Sweet Shop and across the boardwalk from Made.
The space was previously Jackson Art Gallery, a jewelry and clothing business run by Gerard and Karla Kindt for 25 years. The Kindts sold the condominiumized space to the Darwiches last spring and moved to Arizona after 48 years in town.