Local hat-maker keeps cowboy culture values relevant
By Hunter Hewell | Lariat Reporter
The cowboy hat is not just a symbol of the Wild West or of days gone by. The cowboy hat is an expression of the American spirit. The cowboys who wore them remind us of freedom, self-expression and the pursuit of happiness. As the era of technology seems to grow and the number of cowboys seems to lessen, the cowboy hat has come to embody those ideals and represents a lifestyle and spirit that is all but gone.
No one understands this better than Cameron Morris, the owner of Standard Hat Works in Waco.
In 1909, a Hungarian immigrant named William Gross started a custom hat shop in Waco and named it Standard Hat Works. Although the business has changed ownership several times, it has survived the Great Depression, several wars and recessions — all in the name of making great hats.
Now, Morris, the sixth owner, continues to deliver on that promise of making great hats. Morris bought the shop in 2013 and has continuously been learning the craft of making hats ever since. Hat making can be an extremely involved process with many different machines, several of which date back to the 1800s, including a blocking machine from the 1850s and a hat comformateur from the 1860s.
“We’ve got an old blocking machine, sanders, crown irons, flange machines — just old stuff that they don’t make any more,” Morris said.
The blocking machine helps make the shape of the hat, while the conformateur is put on a person’s head to create a pattern that recreates the shape of their head for a custom fit.
Unlike western clothing stores Cavender’s Boot City or Boot Barn, Standard Hat Works delivers a product that is unique to the customer, making custom felt hats in the shop.
“We guarantee a perfect fit,” Morris said. “Everybody’s kind of got an in-between size or a sort of uniqueness about their own head, so we actually make the hat to fit you. We look at the size of your head, we look at the shape of your head, and we try to fit you in the most comfortable hat, straw or custom hat, as possible.”
Morris also mentioned other ways they make a hat specific to the person, such as creasing it exactly the way the customer wants it rather than pre-creasing it as is popular in other stores.
“Every one of our hats is shaped exactly the way you want it,” Morris said. “We start it out from an open crown and a flat brim, and then we shape it to your liking. Everybody has a uniqueness about their shape, so we try to customize it like that.”
The custom hats come in four different qualities: 10x, 20x, 100x, 1000x. The quality is determined by the type and amount of fur being used in the hat. However, the greater the number of X’s, the greater the price tag, with a custom 10x hat starting at $300 and a 1000x starting at $2500.
Although the price tag can be high on these hats, the quality is worthwhile, and if taken care of, they can last a long time, Morris said.
Glenn Wallace, a rancher in Valley Mills, has bought five felt hats from Standard Hat Works and can attest to their quality and longevity. Wallace claims that he still has a hat that he bought in the late ’60s from Standard Hat Works, and that the quality has not waned.
Aside from selling to ranchers and farmers, Standard Hat Works has made hats for famous clientele as well.
“We’ve made hats for all kinds of stars. The rumor is that we’ve made them for George Strait, Garth Brooks, Oprah Winfrey and people like that,” Morris said. “We actually have a hat in the Country Music Hall of Fame that is Clint Black’s hat.”
Morris said they make hats for many of the Texas country music stars while still catering to the farmers, ranchers and any other patrons who enter the store.
Other than making a fashion statement, Morris believes that a hat can say a lot about a person. A cowboy hat can hint at a person’s occupation, hobby or the region where they are from depending on how they have it styled. This makes custom hats even more important so that a person can help shape their own identity through their hat just as they would through any other clothing they choose to wear.
Morris also believes hats are coming back into style in more ways that one. Along with the cowboys and ranchers who regularly wear hats, many adolescents are starting to wear hats to prom. With the resurgence in the popularity of the rodeo culture brought about by PBR (Professional Bull Riding), some wear the hats to imitate their favorite rodeo heroes.
However, there are also other reasons many people are starting to buy hats again, one of the most common being skin cancer. More and more people are developing skin cancer and need extra protection from the sun while outside.
“Skin cancer is a real big deal, and you have got to have a hat to protect your ears and protect your face,” Morris said.
Owning a hat from Standard Hat Works is more than just owning a unique piece of Texas fashion — it is owning a piece of Texas history. The cowboy hat has always been associated with Texas, and Standard Hat Works sets the bar high when it comes to the famous headwear. Since 1909, they have made custom hats for people of all shapes, sizes and nationalities, all with the goal of making sure the customer is 100 percent satisfied.