Hat Trick


TAKE A CREATIVE EXCURSION to LoHi and build a one-of-a-kind custom hat


By Jamie Lynn Miller

Photography By Tatiana  Alexandra


Through the alleyway and up the back stairs, a welcoming patio overlooks 32nd Avenue. Inside the side door, Gem Hats awaits. “Time to make you a hat person!” blinks a bright pink sign in the foyer, and hats in many colors form an arch across the front wall. 


Owner Caroline Hafele has created a choose-your-own millinery adventure. It’s about personalizing the experience, says Hafele, and at a good price point. At Gem Hats, the all-inclusive $225 buys the hat of your choice plus various and sundry accoutrements. Clients pick a carefully crafted wool, suede or straw hat, enjoy a fitting session, and then decorate their new chapeau with umpteen points of flair: feathers, etchings, and upcycled fabric and scraps taken from saris, belts and old gems. “There’s so much fabric in the world. So much beauty,” Hafele says with a smile. “When you see a cool belt doubling as a hatband, you know it’s one-of-a-kind. You won’t ever see it on another hat.”

Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Hafele recalls her early fascination with hats. “It was always about the Derby and bonnets,” she says. “Looking back, my sisters and I were always wearing hats. And I was always trying to find ways to repurpose clothes. My sister would say, ‘Is that my old shirt on your hat?’”


An avid traveler, Hafele lived around the world, from Jordan to Spain to Mexico City, where she worked for a fashion startup. “There’s a big hat culture in Mexico,” she says. For her Panama straws, she works with a Mexican family from the Yucatan that she met along her way. “They have generational family caves,” she explains, a sort of hat-making workshop in a town known for the milliner trade. “There’s a hat statue in the center of town,” she says.

In the summer of 2020, Hafele moved to Denver. Hat-making became a hobby, she recalls. Three years later, Gem Hats was born.    


From upcycled sari scraps to ornate furnishings in the foyer, hints of her travels are everywhere. “I furnished my first apartment ever in Mexico City and had to bring some of those pieces with me,” she says.


The shop hosts all sorts of occasions, from individual fashionistas and birthday parties to bridal and corporate events. “It’s fun to do a bridal party,” Hafele says. “The bride might bring a piece of her mom’s wedding gown or a gem from her grandma. We incorporate that onto her hat.” Men join in too, she says, upcycling ties or pieces of suspenders.

Her favorite, however, are corporate events. Out of office begets out of the box, something she loves to facilitate. “People get to see their co-workers’ style,” says Hafele, which can differ from the workplace setting. “It’s a different side of their personality.”

With five part-time employees all trained in hat-making and design, Gem Hats is ready for a busy season—its first full summer in the heart of LoHi.

Gem Hats

1955 W. 32nd Ave. #1, Denver