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Author: Sophie Malmon-Berg

The Upcycle Collection


For the first time ever, we’re offering an exclusive capsule of ten vintage Stetsons that have been meticulously restored and reborn as wearable works of art. Discover the story of the collection and get to know the artisan behind it.

[Please note: The collection has sold out.]

Text: Andrew Bradbury

Photography: Tatsuro Nishimura, Rick Rodgers. Video: Rick Rodgers

Ben Fife’s career as a craftsman began almost by accident: Inspired by a pair of leather suspenders worn by Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall, he created his own version—and a stranger offered to buy them off his back. Thinking he may be onto something, the 42-year-old Washington native founded Westward Leather Co. in Spokane in 2014, and his meticulously crafted shell cordovan wallets and other leather goods have been selling out ever since. Along the way, inspired by the patina and longevity of a beloved vintage Stetson in his personal collection, Fife added the art of vintage hat restoration to his repertoire, which we’ve put to good use with The Upcycle Collection, a new capsule of ten vintage Stetsons from 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, that have been restored and reimagined as wearable works of art. 

Westward Leather Co.’s Ben Fife, the craftsman behind the Upcycle Collection.

To create this collection, Fife first crafted individual hat blocks from raw linden wood, and after cleaning and steaming the vintage felts, he reshaped them into all-new reimagined profiles and adorned them with textiles from his personal globally-sourced collection. The resulting hats are truly one-of-a-kind, each with its own personality and story. There are, as Fife puts it, “versatile crossovers that are groomed for Sunday service as much as a Mezcal happy hour,” sleek, ‘70s-inspired flat brims that are “striking on street or stage,” and a tall-crowned bohemian showstopper that “recalls the commanding profiles of early 1900s Stetsons.”

We talked with Fife about what inspired the collection, how he chose the vintage felts to upcycle and his hopes for the hats once they find their way to a new home.

What first inspired your love of vintage headwear?

In 2011, my wife and I were going to live off the grid in Alaska for a while and in a vintage shop was this beautiful old Stetson from the 1940s—an Open Road. It fit me perfectly. and I thought this is a great companion for this adventure I’m about to go on. I wore the hell out of it for the next eight years, doing guide work, bartending, just day-to-day life out in the country. It made me aware of how much I wanted to prolong the life of it. So that was the inspiration to figure out how to work with this craft. With Stetson being one of the most iconic heritage brands in our country, with such a rich history, this particular capsule was informed by those elements.

Tell us about the upcycling process. What are some of the steps involved from the initial find to the finished piece?

It’s taking everything off and out of the hat, cleaning and steaming it until the felt is like a new canvas. From there I reimagine what this vintage hat will be as its next life. That’s the evolution of it for me. It turns into making a brand-new hat utilizing a felt that still has plenty of life left in it and that has a story somehow intact into the memory of it, which I think adds an element of intrigue and mystique and beauty to the process.

There are a lot of vintage hats out there, what special characteristics drew you to these particular hats?

I’m looking for potential—something I like the weight of. I like when there’s some patina to the felt that comes with decades of time and wear. Then some of the hats that I find, you can tell haven’t been worn enough!

Fife in his studio in Spokane, WA.

What do you notice about the quality and craftsmanship of these vintage Stetsons?

There’s a density to these felts that you can feel. You can really feel the effort that was put into making them. Stetson always trying to set the bar in terms of quality is very apparent in these vintage felts.

There are a variety of profile styles within the collection. What inspired the different shapes?

The shapes pay homage to earlier Stetson styles, but also to an idea of a lifestyle that a Stetson hat could have lived. I made each of the hat blocks for this collection by hand which harkens back to the earliest days of hat making.

What are some of the materials you used for the hat bands and other style accents? How did you go about sourcing them?

I love collecting things during travels, so a lot of these textiles I’ve had in my possession for over a decade or beyond. Vintage fabrics from all over the world. I think I enjoy bringing those things in because the hat itself in terms of a cultural phenomenon is so widespread and there’s so much variety across cultures and each one kind of serves its own purpose. I’m fascinated by how universal and diverse hats are. So there’s that global influence. Plus, hats are made to travel.

Who do you imagine wearing these hats?

I really hope that whoever each hat speaks to the most finds it. Someone who’s going to put life into it and let it become their own.

What should customers know about purchasing an upcycled hat?

Along with the character that it comes with out of the box you should expect it to start to absorb and inhabit your own character. Be ready to live into that and let that happen. These felts have been used, but they’ve got plenty of life left in them—they’re not delicate. They’re ready. Ready for living.

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Swipe through the slideshow for a closer look at each hat in the collection.

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The Sky’s the Limit

The Sky’s the Limit

The story of the Stetson Stratoliner

By Paul Underwood

Photography by Alexandra Folster

The Stetson Stratoliner was made for the man who is going places. Introduced in 1940, it took its name from the Boeing Stratoliner, a milestone in the Golden Age of Aviation. That Stratoliner, designed in 1935, was the first plane with a pressurized cabin, which enabled it to soar up to 20,000 feet—high above troublesome weather systems. This feat of engineering meant the Stratoliner could ferry 33 passengers and six crewmembers further and faster than anyone had flown before. (Among the first to have one? Howard Hughes, whose Stratoliner was dubbed “The Flying Penthouse.”)

Advertisment, 1941

Advertisment in Collier’s, September 1940

Advertisment in Esquire, April 1945

Sensing the implications, the Stetson design team got to work. The result was a lightweight fedora crafted from 2-1/2 ounce fur felt, so it packed easily and could be worn year-round. It sported a lower crown height, the better for fitting into a cramped airplane cabin, or a cab on the way to the airport. Its rakish, angled crown shape suggested a man—or a plane—on the move. The hat band came adorned with a small silver pin in the shape of a Boeing. It even arrived in a metallic silver box, suggesting the famed exterior of its namesake aircraft, with an illustrated label showing both the Stratoliner plane and the Stratoliner name. 

Stetson’s ad campaign for the Stratoliner emphasized the connection between plane and hat. “Take off in style,” one ad urged, while another declared that it “reaches new heights in style, quality and smart colorings”—while “the price is a down-to-earth $6.” Stetson introduced the hat with ads in California and Texas, where some of the first Stratoliner flights touched down. The actor Adolphe Menjou, a noted man of style both on-screen and off, was photographed carrying his Stratoliner hat while boarding a Stratoliner plane, an image soon splashed across Stetson ads far and wide, promising ease, glamour, and sophistication in equal measure. 

“The Stratoliner’s rakish, angled crown shape suggested a man—or a plane—on the move.”

After WWII, as the Jet Age dawned, the hat became the go-to for the era’s Rat Packers and Mad Men. Over time, tastes evolved, and the style was retired, only to return in 2009. Then, as now, it was crafted the old-fashioned way: By hand, in Garland, Texas. While the original Boeing Stratoliner is no longer cutting edge—indeed, the only one left now belongs to the Smithsonian—the hat it inspired remains an icon of timeless Stetson style. 

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Spring 2022: Steve Gonzalez and Ontario Armstrong take the Stratoliner out for a spin in NYC.

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Western Dreamer


Matt McCormick filters timeless cowboy iconography through a modern lens—in his art and a new collaboration with Stetson.

By Andrew Bradbury
Photography by Germano Assuncao

Matt McCormick is not a cowboy—he makes that clear upfront. But like the song goes, his heroes have always been. “As a kid, my superhero was always the cowboy.” 

Matt grew up in the Bay Area, but there were many trips with his mother to California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley, and plenty of exposure to endless Western movies with his father.

“That cowboy character became a kind of North Star of what it means to be a man,” he says. Now the work he creates evokes conversation about broader national themes, filled with strong, silent types serving as the hero and dreamlike symbols from the sort of roadside Americana that was, if not invented, then certainly perfected by his home state: neon motel signs, muscle cars, a soda machine at an old filling station.


“The Stetson hat has become a symbol of American culture that reverberates throughout my work.”

His aesthetic and good-old-DIY, California punk-rock ethos that has made his work a crossover success with both hypebeasts (literally—he was on the cover of Hypebeast magazine in 2019) and serious art collectors. It manages to convey a heightened, stylized reality that feels rooted in the past, but fully of the modern world, making McCormick one of the most dynamic artists working in the Western genre—likely because he’s not fully confined to it.

The contrast is apparent in his new collaboration with Stetson, which features a limited-edition boot, as well as a pair of legendary Fender® Telecasters® emblazoned with custom graphics. Though it’s his first official collaboration with the brand, McCormick says, “The Stetson hat has become a symbol of American culture that reverberates throughout my work.”

For the boots, McCormick brought classic Western design details to a more city-friendly Chelsea style. “I always wanted a boot with a western feel that could exist seamlessly in the city, as well as the outdoors,” he says, “a traditional cowboy boot is a little intense.” The guitars—a pair of American-made Telecasters® featuring rough charcoal interpretations of classic Stetson logos and a sketch of a modern cowboy—are another reminder that a little bit of country and a little bit of rock and roll can go a really, really long way.

In that spirit, McCormick cites Dwight Yoakam as one of his heroes, “He got his start playing alongside punk bands in LA but he is also super traditional, and paid homage to the greats like Buck Owens and earned those guys’ respect. But he didn’t just stick to one world.”

Music has always played a role in McCormick’s life, thanks to his father, a musician who still plays in bands. Inspired by the time his father secured a grant to fund an art program when his school was without one, McCormick is committed to using his platform to raise awareness for arts education.

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We’re happy to join him in that effort, and as part of this launch, The John B. Stetson Company, in conjunction with The Bulova Stetson Fund, has made a donation of $10,000 to Education Through Music-Los Angeles, which partners with under-resourced schools in McCormick’s backyard to provide music as a core subject for all children, utilizing music education as a catalyst to improve academic achievement, motivation for school and self-confidence.

Seventh grader Nathan is an up-and-coming young guitarist from East LA. He learned to play guitar from his dad and loves Metallica. He also loves the bongo.

Ninth grader Brianna is usually strumming on the bass guitar. She’s equally talented on the Telecaster® though—pictured here performing at Matt’s studio in Los Angeles.

“It’s been proven the benefits that it provides,” McCormick says, “and music is a language we can all understand. For kids, having a moment to pause and get away from a screen is very calming and very therapeutic. And I think it keeps the imagination alive. I feel lucky that I get to exist in a career where I get to imagine and have dreams all day.”

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The Open Road Story


Widely imitated, never replicated, since 1937

Every now and again, form and function intersect to create something somehow both useful and beautiful, purpose-built yet iconic. The Coca-Cola bottle. The denim work shirt. The Porsche 911. To that list we would add: The Stetson Open Road, a style so classic and time-tested that it’s hard to believe there was ever a world where it didn’t exist.

The hat, with its western crown and shorter, town-friendly brim, dates back to 1937, a time when the open road itself was a relatively new concept. Route 66 was just over a decade old, and the top-of-the-line V-8 in the latest-model Ford cranked out a whopping 85 horsepower. Unlike today’s sturdy, hard-wearing Open Road, the 1937 iteration was more of a lightweight, western-inflected fedora.

It wasn’t until 1948 that the Open Road as we know it—with its iconic cattleman crown, narrow grosgrain ribbon, and that perfectly proportioned brim turned up just so at the edge—entered the world. It was an instant success, thanks in part to a marketing campaign that blanketed Texas and other Western states, proclaiming the hat’s versatility as a dressy option at home in town or country, in the West or back East. (“Almost as popular on the Avenue as they are on the Open Road,” as one ad later put it.)

Advertisment in The Saturday Evening Post, 1950

Advertisment, 1952

Advertisment in Time, February 1953

Before long, the Open Road was adorning some of the most famous heads in the land. Presidents in particular seemed to relish the style—Harry S. Truman was an early adopter, as was Dwight Eisenhower, both of whom wore it with a suit. 


Lyndon B. Johnson’s affinity for the Open Road inspired both a Stetson ad campaign (touting “The L.B.J. Look”) and a wave of knockoffs in the mid-’60s. (You can still buy your own—authentic—Open Road at the LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas.) Winston Churchill wore one; so did Hank Williams. The hat played a supporting role in films like Smokey and the Bandit and From Dusk Till Dawn, while modern luminaries including Jeff Tweedy of Wilco have helped ensure the hat’s legend endures in the 21st Century.

Before long, the Open Road was adorning some of the most famous heads in the land.

In the early days, Stetson ads declared the Open Road “a hat that will proclaim your distinctive individuality to the world”—a sentiment that rings more true now than ever. You can get an Open Road in straw, hemp, or, of course, fur felt, each one adorned with our new 1865 pin. As it has been for decades, the Open Road is made by hand in Garland, Texas, meaning only a handful are in production at any one time.

Quality takes time, as we like to say, but, as the Open Road proves, quality also endures.

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The Story of John B. Stetson



It was summer 1862. Storms were brewing over the Colorado Rockies. And when the rain hit, John B. Stetson and his colleagues went scrambling for shelter.

Thinking quickly, they fashioned coverage from the animals they had shot for food. First, a tent, which Stetson created using the felting process he had learned from his father’s business. Then, a hat. Wide-brimmed and tall-crowned, it featured a silhouette familiar today, but back then, the shape was so unusual that the other members of his party gave him grief for it. That is until a passing bullwhacker bought it from Stetson for a five-dollar gold piece.


Nearly 200 years after his birth, John B. Stetson, and the company he founded, are synonymous with innovation, independence, and handcrafted American headwear. His name appears in novels by Hemingway and Steinbeck, in iconic folk songs like “Stagger Lee,” and in more recent tunes by such varied artists as Steely Dan, The Roots, and Lyle Lovett, who sang that “My John B. Stetson was my only friend” in his classic, “Don’t Touch My Hat.

Clint Eastwood wearing a Stetson
style hat in the 1960s Western trilogy ‘The Man with No Name’.

The son of a hatter, born in 1830, the seventh of 12 children, Stetson grew up in the family business until he was diagnosed with tuberculosis while in his 20s. Seeking relief—and perhaps a bit of adventure—he headed West. He first landed in St. Joseph, Missouri, where he worked his way up the ranks of a local brickyard, becoming an owner before the factory, and his fortune washed away in a river flood. From there, he fell in with the gold rushers and cowboys of the era, making frequent expeditions to Pike’s Peak in Colorado in search of gold, which led him to that fateful Colorado rainstorm.

While in the Rockies, Stetson had noticed the shortcomings of the coonskin caps Westerners often wore. They were prone to fleas, they didn’t provide much shade from the sun, and they didn’t hold up in the rain. His invention fixed all that, and as news of this new breed of headwear took hold, Stetson headed back east to Philadelphia, launching his business in a one-room workshop with $60 he borrowed from his sister.

There, he developed The Boss of the Plains, based on his Pike’s Peak creation, a lightweight and all-weather fur felt hat with a high, creased four-inch crown and a wide four-inch brim. Instantly iconic, the hat sold far and wide, equally renowned for its quality and practicality. Working with different shapes and materials, he created hats for city and country, eventually selling millions of hats per year in the half-century that followed, including many styles that we still make today.

Stetson’s entrepreneurial skills were matched by his passion for the well-being of his workers. In an era of meager workers’ rights, Stetson, a devout Baptist, paid good wages and offered extensive benefits to the thousands of people who made a Stetson a Stetson. He provided a robust profit-sharing program, created a building and loan that helped countless workers become homeowners, and built and operated a hospital for employees and the community. He even had an intramural softball league that played during working hours on Wednesday afternoons, among other athletic opportunities. Stetson also helped find the YMCA in Philadelphia and was an early benefactor of Florida’s Deland University, renamed John B. Stetson University in 1889. Its School of Business Administration and College of Law, founded in 1897 and 1900, respectively, were the first of their kind in the state.

Stetson died in Deland in 1906, but his legacy endures. Throughout the 20th Century and on into the 21st, the Stetson has remained an icon of purpose-driven American style, from the dusty ranches of West Texas to the sidewalks of New York. It’s no wonder everyone from the silent film star Tom Mix (who has a hat named after him) to presidents from Truman and LBJ to Ronald Reagan to countless actors, musicians, entrepreneurs, and other modern pioneers have made a Stetson their signature.

They come from all walks of life, but all are bound by a shared appreciation for the quality, character, and a spirit of adventure—and one man’s ingenuity during a fateful Colorado rainstorm more than 150 years ago.

Lon Megaree’s 1922 painting, “The Last Drop from His Stetson,” embodies the cowboy ethos of compassion, integrity, and respect at the heart of every hat we produce today—many featuring a liner adorned with Megaree’s iconic artwork.

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Cowboy State of Mind

Cowboy State of Mind

How a new life on the range in Wyoming—and the loyal companionship of a paint horse named Toby—helped Chance Gilliland get back in the saddle after a debilitating injury.

By Samuel Martin

“Flesh and blood need flesh and blood, and you’re the one I need.” 

— Johnny Cash 

Most cowboys can relate to stories of broken bones. When you’re working with horses, cattle, and large equipment, it’s not a question of if you’ll get hurt but when.

For Chance Gilliland, the fateful moment occurred on a late spring day in 2019 at home in central Missouri. A storm was rolling in, but he just couldn’t fight the urge to ride. “I had gone to the local rodeo the night before and had the itch to be on a horse. When I started to saddle up and mount [my horse], I got thrown and broke my back. I had to be air-evaced to St. Louis, where I had to undergo an emergency spinal fusion.”

The aftermath of his accident was a stark disentanglement from horses and the way of life he knew. Gilliland’s parents, George and Julie, both raced and competed in rodeo and horse shows throughout Chance’s childhood, and he spent his youth riding horses and working with his father. No matter how far he wandered away from home later in life, horses were a constant. Until that day in 2019.

Chance spent the next year and a half in recovery, and for the first time in his life, he experienced anxiety and depression. He spent six months in a brace as he learned how to walk again, and struggled with sleeping and constant pain after returning home from the hospital. He was forbidden to lift anything, so he focused on walkinggoing a little farther each day.

After a year of grueling recovery, it was time for a change. “I grew up watching cowboy movies about the American west and always had this dream of riding my horse through that same open and vast landscape,” recalls Chance, who knew that this was the time to act on that dream. So he pulled up stakes and moved to Wyoming, taking a job as a wrangler on a ranch near the Colorado border, hoping that living and working in the Cowboy State would rekindle his love for riding.

“I’ve never been scared of horses, but after the accident, I was terrified to even be around them. I was fragile. I had lost a lot of confidence, and I didn’t feel like myself,” he says. “As the saying goes, Get back on the horse, but I’ll tell you it’s not easy after an accident like that. You can’t help but consider the possibility of it happening again, and maybe I won’t be as lucky this time.”


“I’ve never been scared of horses, but after the accident, I was terrified to even be around them.”

When Chance arrived at the ranch, he was paired with a large red horse from the wrangler herd. As he tried to throw a blanket on him, he bolted off across the ring. Chance knew this wasn’t the one. A few days later, he heard rumors about a horse named Toby—a hidden gem within the wrangler herd that hadn’t been ridden in a few seasons. 

“The next morning in the dusty air of the stampede, my friend leaned in and said, ‘Thats him,’ and I saw him: white, black, and brown. A galloping paint coming up from the meadow. We met outside the corral and he gave me a nudge.”

Besides their unique coat patterns, paint horses are known for their friendliness, intelligence, and calm demeanor, and Chance’s confidence started to return the moment he climbed onto the saddle. “I saddled him up and went on our first ride and it was just smooth sailing. I felt like myself again, he recalls.

Toby liked to be at the front of the pack and have a strong presence with the other horses, a dynamic that allowed Chance to give Toby the lead while he relearned the lessons of his youth. The two quickly became familiar with one another and spent the summer riding the 30,000 acres across the ranch.

“Toby was there for me when I needed to learn how to ride a horse again,” Chance says. “He helped me lope and trot againall basic stuff, but in a way that was comfortable and safe. A rider and a horse should work together because they’re coworkers, trying to get the job done.

Chance wears the BLACK & TAN JAC-SHIRT.

Chance wears the CLASSIC SUEDE JACKET.

For Chance, the definition of job is an ever expanding one. He recently added “actor” to his résumé following an appearance in the Yellowstone spinoff series 1883, and when not on set, he spends his time at home in Missouri or working on the ranch in Wyoming, riding the open range with Toby.

After an eventful few years, does he have any advice for the rest of us? “Everyone out there can find that horse for you if you look for it, and put the effort into building the relationship.

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