For more than 100 years, American Hat Company has been making their ware in the good old U.S. of A.
In 1915, Sam Silver founded the American Hat Company in Houston and started making and selling hats. Three generations of the Silver family carried on his tradition, and in the 1950s developed a water-resistant finish for their straw hats, creating the first straw hats that could be worn in the rain.
In 2003, current owners Keith and Susan Maddox purchased the American Hat Company and moved the company to Bowie, Texas, where it now resides. President of American Hat Company, Keith Mundee, throws his (ahem) hat in the ring to help us understand the business.
What do the Xs mean, anyway?
It used to represent how much beaver was in the hat. Now, to some degree, it still represents the quality of the hat, but there’s no standard across the industry. Forget the Xs and let the hat speak for itself. If you hold a hat, you can feel the difference. The softer the feel, the better the hat. If it’s scratchy, it’s wool. Stiffness does not determine quality—just the amount of stiffener in the hat—a wool hat can be stiff as a board. You have to get your hands on them.
American Hat Company is credited with developing the open crown/flat brim concept for retailers. What’s that all about?
For us, it’s about total flexibility in terms of inventory for the retailer. When you get a hat shaped to fit your face and you walk out of a store, it looks like it’s your hat. When you use a hat that’s been pre-shaped in a factory somewhere, it looks like you’re wearing someone else’s hat. An open crown—or uncreased hat—gives you total flexibility to have the hat shaped to fit your personality, your individuality, the region of the country you’re from, or the end of the arena you work.
What about the term “Long Oval?”
It’s an industry term. When you look at head shapes, most people have a long, oval-shaped head. There are some people who have round oval-shaped heads, and long ovals don’t fit them well. If you’re wearing the wrong one, one corner of the hat will tend to pop up and not hold its shape.
Where did the term “Mad Hatter” come from?
They used to use mercury in the finishing process of hats. So the hatters had a tendency to get sick from the mercury—and go mad. If you look in the back of your hat, there’s a bow. Folklore has it that the bow represents a skull and crossbones that means: caution, this thing has mercury in it. It became tradition and the bow is still there, though obviously we don’t use mercury anymore.
There are some serious etiquette requirements and superstitions when it comes to cowboy hats. What are the most important ones?
Number one would be to take your hat off when you’re meeting a lady. Take it off when you’re having supper. During the national anthem and prayer, take your hat off and place it over your heart. And never touch another man’s hat.
What about superstitions?
Never, ever set your hat on the bed.