It’s pretty difficult to go anywhere in the city and not see dozens of people wearing baseball hats of one kind or another, but take a closer look. Hats of every kind are making a comeback. Look at any old black and white photo taken from the early 1900’s through the 50’s and almost all men are wearing hats. The same was once true for women, and the right hat was a big part of the ensemble.
Walk along busy Boston streets today and you’ll see a scally cap, fedora, tweed and occasional Panama – on both men and women. “Many of the hats we sell are unisex. We feel that hats are becoming popular again,” said Gio Gablemann, shop keeper at Goorin Brothers Hats on fashionable Newbury St. She credits the recent royal wedding in Britain in part for putting the focus back on stylish headwear.
The store is designed to look much the way stores might have looked in 1895 when Cassel Goorin, the company’s founder, started selling his hand-made hats on horseback. Today Goorin Brothers is the oldest hat company in the country.
The store showroom is lined with shelves stocked with hats of every style. Two big leather wing chairs and exposed brick add a masculine element, and a crystal chandelier balances the look. Fedoras in muted orange, plaid or check, come in wool, straw and canvas. There’s a bowl of colorful feathers so that buyers can choose the one that looks best in their fedora.
Ladies, 1920’s inspired droplet hats, preppy boaters (made right in New Bedford), cadets, flat caps, and Panamas, and numerous strategically placed mirrors make it easy to see how you look in each one.
“The most popular hat we sell right now is the fedora. I think forty percent of our sales are fedoras. And, our Panamas come from Equator where they’re hand woven. There are just 10 master weavers left in the world now,” Gablemann said.
One of the store’s newer lines includes a selection of hats with hand-designed graphics that sell for $60-$110.
Customers from all walks of life visit the store including many celebs. “One day I saw Neil Young come in here and I couldn’t believe it because I grew up with my dad listening to him all the time. He was so nice, and he bought a Monte Christie Panama,” Gablemann said.
Other high-profile clients include Wes Walker of the New England Patriots, Sean Thornton of the Boston Bruins and actor, Dan Aykroyd, who Gablemann said was like a long lost uncle.
The store also sells hat boxes bearing the name Goorin Brothers, six of which were purchased by Young, and Joey Brown from the company’s San Francisco headquarters, said “People who own nice hats like to keep them in boxes so they don’t get dusty.”
Hats are sold by grade with 60 being the highest and Goorin Brothers stocks some 25 grade hats that sell for $500 but Gablemann said the average price people spend on a hat is $50-$60.
Goorin Brothers has a great selection of hats, but shoppers who want something a little out of the ordinary might want to check out Toppers on Tremont St. Hats that might be worn by the Queen Mum or by ladies at the Kentucky Derby line these shelves.
Dave Dawson opened the store 25 years ago, and it was originally in Providence. But Boston has been his permanent home for a long time and locals know that regardless of the event they’ll be able to find the right hat here. Ladies will find beautifully designed wide-brimmed hats decorated with colorful flowers, bows, feathers and sequins. There are hats with ruffles, pill box hats, hats with mesh and they even have a clever looking zipper hat.
Men can find tall top hats here as well as aviators, straw hats, flap hats and berets. Both men and women’s lines offer a wide selection of choices in color and fabric including felt, velvet, tweed, wool, suede and knits. “People think the Kentucky Derby is the only event where women wear outrageous hats, but there are quite a few other times that the fancy hats come out, even here in Boston.” said Dawson.
The hat merchant went on to say that local women who attend events such as Potting in the Park and the Rose Garden event wear the nicest hats they can find. “There are still many women who wear a hat to church every Sunday, and many still don them on Easter,” Dawson said.
His shop also has a few novelty hats including the teapot hat which actually looks like a teapot on one’s head. There are hand-made knitted kid’s animal hats such as a bunny with long ears, a cat and clown among others. One of the more unusual hats is a small one made from peacock feathers.
Toppers is also a destination store for the rich and famous and Dawson said over the years celebs that have been to his store include Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall, Rod Stewart, Trudie Styler, Gene Hackman and Faye Dunaway. “And members of local bands like Aerosmith, J. Geils and Mark Wahlberg have all bought things here,” he said.
Hats at Toppers range in price from $10 and $15 up to $600, and there are usually 100 designs on hand. One particular “Alice in Wonderland” top hat sells for $95. Dawson said that at least fifty percent of his stock is made in the USA. He also stocks a selection of hat boxes in a variety of prints and the average price for a hat box is about $20.
Halloween tends to be a busy time for Dawson, who said many customers attending a costume party come in to pick up something special.
Whether your taste is conservative or zany, locals (and celeb guests), will be able to find the perfect hat right here in Boston.
Goorin Brother Hats
130 Newbury St.
617 859 1430
151 Tremont St.
617 247 4287