If you’ve ever looked at a Stetson hat and wondered how they get their distinctive shape, then have we got a treat for you. The renowned maker of the typical Western style cowboy hat allowed Brand Made into two of their manufacturing facilities in Texas for a closer look at exactly how these hats are made.
When Stetson hats first came on the market, they were made with a beaver felt, a product that produced a water-proof and very long lasting material, perfect for hats. Such a useful piece of equipment was invaluable for cowboys who worked weeks on end in every type of weather, rain or shine. Despite being an expensive investment Stetson hats soon became the norm for cowboys.
Today the company uses rabbit felt instead of beaver. Fur felt is far more durable than wool, which is really saying something when you consider how many years a wool hat can be worn! This thick felt fabric is made from the shaved hairs from rabbit pelts and then the fur is blown in a special machine. This separates the longer hairs from the down, the latter of which is what is used to make Stetson hats.
The down is then blown onto a metal cone that’s about 8 times larger than a finished hat, at which point the felt is not yet formed into the dense material that the hats are made from. At this stage the down is like cotton candy and is very delicate.
The cone gets wrapped up and then dunked into a hot water bath to bind and shrink the felt. Then the forms are tumbled and shrunk again until the correct size is achieved. Next the hats are dyed and then are given a coat of natural shellac to stiffen the hats so that they keep their shape.
The hats are then formed in several stages before reaching the blocking machine which forces the hat into something closer to the final shape. Then the hats are shipped to a finishing facility to be completed.
At this second facility the hats are given their final shape and are blocked again to the correct hat size. After trimming the brim, the Stetson hats are sanded with sandpaper which removes loose fur and gives a smooth finish.
After final shaping and trimming, the leather sweatband and sating lining are sewn in before the final inspection takes place.
The process is around 100 years old and each hat is made one at a time. Much of the equipment used in both the facilities featured is also vintage, making it a process that has changed little over the years. Stetson has warehouse facilities that store vintage equipment and parts since replacements for these antiquated machines aren’t available and must be fabricated from old stock.
See the full process in the video below.