I caught an article on Bloomberg yesterday about Stetson hats, and thought about my father.
No, he wasn’t a cowboy. Far from it. But he was a hat wearer, and a Stetson man. (Stetson’s came in fabulous hat boxes, by the way.)
No, he didn’t wear a cowboy hat. Far from it. But he did wear a fedora. (Felt most of the year; straw between Memorial Day and Labor Day.)
If my father was out of doors, he had a hat on. He did wear a golf cap (a billed, mesh baseball-cap like chapeau) when he golfed or was at the beach. But mostly it was a trusty fedora.
I can think of very few outside pictures where my father is not wearing a fedora. He even wore a fedora when he was out raking the lawn.
He was, of course, a card-carrying member of the Greatest Generation – in cleaning out stuff for my home renovation, I came across a laminated copy of the card-form of his discharge papers, which he carried in his wallet at all times; so, yes, he was a card-carrying member of the GG – and this was also the last generation where men wore a hat as a matter of course. (It wasn’t just men who wore hats. No woman would go out to dinner, to church, or shopping without wearing a hat. Children followed suit. Girls had hats for church and shopping – in our family there was no such thing as going out to dinner – and boys had snappy little fedoras, porkpies, or trilbies that they wore to church.)
Male hat-wearing started dying out when JFK – my father’s fellow Massachusetts, Irish-Catholic, and WWII navy veteran GG-er, although that’s about where any resemblance ends –began going hatless. Suddenly, hat-wearing was stodgy and old-man.
Of course, JFK had a wonderful head of hair. My father had a wonderful head of bald. Which probably explains his fealty to fedora wearing, even when the hat became passé.
Stetson is still in business. No longer the hat behemoth that once employed 5,000 hatters, but still around. And trying to appeal to hipsters and fashionistas, while still hatting American cowboys, as they’ve done for the past 150 years.
They no longer make hats in Philadelphia. That plant shut down in 1971, the year my father died. (Coincidence? I think not…)
A company called Hatco now makes Stetson's emblematic cowboy hats at a factory in Garland, Tex. Stetson has survived as a licensing company. Whereas its bustling factory once employed more than 5,000 workers, fewer than 10 people, mostly in the New York office, now oversee Stetson's licenses and evangelize for the brand. (Source: Bloomberg)
Part of the evangelizing of the brand entails getting hip and happenin’ Stetsons on the heads of hip and happenin’ folks.
Celebrity endorsements are a key part of Stetson's strategy for garnering mainstream publicity. While Stetson doesn't have a marketing budget, some famous folks promote the hats free: The company sends an unlimited supply of hats to celebrities, including Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson, and Brad Paisley, provided they wear them in public.
Brad Paisley is in his early 40’s, still young enough to pass for hipster – if a country singer of that age can do so. Willie Nelson and Leonard Cohen are in their 80’s. Of course, Willie never went out of style, and Leonard Cohen, I suppose, has a certain ageless hipster appeal. (Snap, snap. When I was in college, and you wanted to slink off into a bluish funk, you put on a Doors album, followed by a round of Leonard Cohen. So long, Marianne.)
Brad, Willie and Leonard aside, Stetson CEO Izumi Kajimoto says:
"We must be at the forefront of haberdashery and fashion. I don't want the urban contemporary, city, international guy to think, 'I have nothing in common with Stetson.'"
On beyond hats, Stetson has a number of products that use its name, most playing on the Western heritage, a heritage that Kajimoto knows that “she needs to make [it]…seem cool.”
Come on! What’s not cool about Roy Rogers (no relation), Gene Autry, and John Wayne? About cattle drives and shoot outs at corrals? About spurs, chaps, and walking bowlegged? About dogies? And dogie crap? About saloons with swinging doors? About gunslingers and purdy little schoolmarms that try to find the goodness in gunslingers? About barbed wire, prairie dogs, and bucking broncos?
What do these hipsters want, anyway?
My father may not have been a cowboy. And he was no one’s idea of a hipster. But he sure knew how to look good in a Stetson.
They’re not making any more of my father, but I’m happy that they’re still making Stetson hats.
Hats off to that. And good luck with the hipsters.