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Steam Stories: The secret to stylish hats

Who: Barbara Feinman, owner of Barbara Feinman Millinery

Jiffy Steamer Model: J-1 Hat Steamer

Years Using: 25 years

How She Discovered Jiffy: Feinman learned about using steam for hats in school and started using a Jiffy Steamer early in her professional career.

“It’s the single most important tool we have.”

Tucked inside the ground floor of an unassuming brick building in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village, Barbara Feinman is outfitting the heads of New Yorkers one stylish hat at a time.

Feinman and her business partner, Julia Knox, head up Barbara Feinman Millinery. Their small team of milliners work passionately to handcraft a wide variety of hats for men and women and for every occasion. Since opening in 1998, the millinery has earned a reputation for designing hats that are high-quality, functional, versatile and reflect who the wearer is – or wants to be.

Every hat is made on-site using traditional methods and materials. Stepping into Feinman’s tiny backroom workshop is like going back in time. There’s a sewing machine dating back to the industrial revolution and a collection of hat shaping blocks representing a century’s worth of styles.

And sitting among Feinman’s tools and fabrics is the Jiffy J-1 Hat Steamer, which she says is essential to the hat making process. Saturating felt or straw with steam makes it soft and stretchable, allowing the milliners to shape it over a wooden block into a custom hat.

“The fundamental way you make a felt hat is with steam. That’s it. You have to have a reliable source of steam at hand,” Feinman said. “We can’t make hats without it.”

Feinman was first introduced to the power of steam while she was a student in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s hat making program. She earned her certificate in 1992 and started making hats professionally in her kitchen with a Jiffy Steamer.

“They last forever,” Feinman said. “And I love the fact that it’s made in the U.S. and that you still make them. The technology that goes into making hats is harder and harder to find. It’s affordable and it works. It’s the single most important tool we have.”

Learn more about Barbara Feinman Millinery on their websiteFacebookTwitter or Instagram.

Photos via Barbara Feinman Millinery.