Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Michael Miller at The Missing Piece

Posted By on Wed, Sep 3, 2008 at 11:56 AM

By JEN CHEN

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I’ve been intrigued by The Missing Piece, the hat store in Westport. It’s next door to Murray’s, and when I’d go over there for ice cream, I’d sometimes see a behatted guy sitting outside and smoking. I wanted to find out more about the place, so I stopped in there last week. A guy working behind the counter told me that owner Michael Miller just opened a second store at Crown Center. I made my way over to Crown Center (or, as I like to call it, the giant Habitrail) and chatted with Miller about hats, hat etiquette and the rise of the baseball cap.

Miller has owned The Missing Piece for 17 years. He first got into the hat business through his best friend, Tim McClendon, who used to own the store in Westport. When McClendon decided to move to Florida, Miller took over the business. Here’s another fun factoid: McClendon’s mother has been making hats for 45 years. “She does more church hats. Big, elaborate pieces,” Miller said. She used to have a store at Town Pavilion and was one of the last tenants at Bannister Mall. She still operates a hat business out of her house.

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Both stores carry all sorts of hats for men, women and children. Miller said that a lot of people walk in and ask him, “Where would I wear that?” His reply: “Where wouldn’t you wear a hat?”

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Recently, guys have been going for fedoras (“It’s a classy-looking type of hat”) and women have been buying hats with big brims. “Girls have been coming in and asking for a J-Lo hat,” he said.

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I asked Miller what people should look for when buying a hat. “I’d look for practicality,” he said. Whether it’s for running errands, going out in the snow or going to church, make sure the hat fits its purpose. “I wouldn’t say that it should fit your personality, but a person should feel confident to wear a hat,” he added. It should also feel snug on your head.

Miller said he got into hats because of his dad. “My father wore a hat everywhere. It wasn’t until his later years that he started wearing a baseball cap,” he said. Lately, he’s been seeing a lot of baseball caps everywhere. “People, in general, dress down. They used to wear hats, like a fedora or a derby, to baseball games with sports coats,” he said. “Now, when I go out to dinner, take my girl out, go to a show, I have a shirt and tie on. The show’s full of people in baseball caps and blue jeans. And that’s fine.”

He said that hats are making a comeback, thanks to celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson (who popularized the Kangol), Alicia Keys and Steve Harvey, who has his own line of hats.

As for hat etiquette, Miller said that in the past, men were supposed to take their hats off whenever they entered a building. “I don’t know if that’s still good now. I don’t pull my hat off when I walk into a building,” he said. Plus, in restaurants, there aren’t places for guys to hang their hats anymore.

“The only place I’m compelled to take my hat off is in church, out of respect,” he said. “And women don’t have to take their hats off – they can wear it everywhere.”

Before I left, Miller urged me to try on a few different hats. I tried on a '20s-style straw cloche hat and a big-brimmed straw one that I could wear to, say, a garden party or the Kentucky Derby. I felt glamorous, even in my shorts and Converses. That's the transformative power of a hat for you.

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