The Sky’s the Limit

The story of the Stetson Stratoliner

By Paul Underwood

Photography by Steve Gonzalez

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. 

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