When President Bush addressed the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention in Denver last February, the NCBA presented him with a custom-made, 100-percent pure beaver cowboy hat. In the course of his remarks to the association, the President pulled the hat out from behind the podium and put it on his head. The crowd cheered and the scene made national news.
A lot of folks watching the incident on television that night probably observed that the hat was well creased, and looked good on the President. Who made it? Where did it come from?
The answer is Trent Johnson of the Greeley Hat Works in Greeley, Colo., made George Bush’s cowboy hat. Casey Vogt of Vogt Silversmiths designed the solid 14-carat gold buckle set on the hat, and the sweatband was handcarved by Andy Stevens of Stevens Saddlery.
Trent said the hat size was provided by the White House. Color and style were left up to him, so he called his friend, singer Red Steagall, the cowboy poet of Texas, for some advice. Red knows the President, and it was easy for him to offer advice to Trent.
“Red and I had a few pow-wows over the phone, and that’s where we came up with the champagne color, kind of an off-white, and a traditional rancher-style crease,” Trent said. “I gave the hat a 3M\,-inch brim, a little wider than the hat I had seen him wear on TV sometime earlier.”
Trent said he also had some “sleepless nights” in the days leading up to the hat presentation. After all, he hadn’t taken the head measurement himself.
“I worried about the fit. What if it fell down over his ears when he put it on? Fortunately, it fit great. I had lots of compliments from folks who had seen him wearing the hat.”
There aren’t many custom hatters in the world today, mainly because it takes so much time and patience to make hats one at a time. And economics of the process dictate that custom hats will be more expensive than those made by the large hat companies. But if a person wants a special hat that fits perfectly, then Trent is the guy to see.
He likes to take a head measurement himself, using a device called a conformer, which measures every subtle curve. Then he and the customer decide on color, and Trent picks out an appropriate wooden hat block that most closely resembles the circumference of the head.
“All of our equipment was built between 1850 and 1940,” Trent said, “so that’s another reason there aren’t a lot of custom hatters around – it’s hard to find the equipment.”
After the hat is blocked, sanded, and partially shaped, Trent hand-cuts the sweatband to fit the person’s head pattern, and then the band is sewed in. Trent likes to do the final fitting on the customer’s head, but that doesn’t always work out.
“If someone sends me a favorite old hat, one that has become kind of molded to the head, then I can get a good idea of the shape and use that as a pattern for a new hat,” he said.
Trent is the fourth owner of his business, which was founded in 1909. The 30-year-old was an apprentice for nearly 4 years before purchasing the shop in 1996. His association with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association goes back about 5 years, and he is commissioned each year to do a custom hat for the association’s outgoing president.
Trent is the father of two – daughter Camryn, age 2, and son Colton, 4. Wife and mother, Melissa, works in the store with him. “She’s the boss,” Trent said. “Melissa prints all the sweatbands, sews them together, and does a lot of the finishing touches, as does Jay Funk. Jay is kind of my right hand. He does hat renovations and has started helping on some of the steps with the custom hats, as well.”
The Greeley Hat Works: 970-353-7300 (studio) or 888-FOR-A-HAT (367-2428).