Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Ben Goorin might be the only president of an American heritage brand who's also done time as a child model. The fourth-generation hat-maker has been involved in his family's company, Goorin Bros., since he was a little kid showing off hats in their catalogs. Now 32, he's presiding over a New York expansion for the San Francisco-based brand: Goorin Bros. opened a Bleecker Street boutique just last week after launching in Park Slope earlier this year. We got Ben on the phone to talk about Bleecker Street, hat fitting advice, and the difference between East Coast and West Coast style.
Why did you pick Park Slope and the West Village for your New York stores?
More or less because they feel like neighborhoods. They're the kind of places where people have a local barber shop, a local hardware store, a favorite restaurant. We really want to be part of a community, bringing back hat shops the way they used to be, where you’d have your local neighborhood hat shop where you know the person behind the counter.
Do you hire people who are hat experts? What's the training like?
It’s hard to find people with experience in hats. It’s a category that’s gone dormant for 50 years. So most people don’t have experience with hats, but they do have experience with service. It’s like a tailor shop or a men’s store where there’s a lot of personal fittings going on—it's all very one-on-one. It’s a new experience for a lot of people because it’s not self-service. We really need our merchants to work with people.
Along those lines, what advice do you have for hat shoppers?
Be willing to try many styles. Every fit is a little bit different, and depending on the shape of your head or your face, different brim sizes work better. A narrow face looks better with a smaller brim, while a wider face needs a wider brim. Some hats sit lower down, close to your eyes, while other hats fit towards the back of your head. It’s really important to be able to try on a hat in front of a mirror with someone who can give you subjective advice. It's like buying sunglasses.
Do you have a personal favorite style?
Porkpies are really what I like. They're round on the top and they have a smaller brim, and you can kind of wear them tilted back. It's sort of a casual look but a really classic shape.
Are there any special hats to look out for at the Bleecker Street store?
We've got limited-styles produced in the New York area, both in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey. We did some smaller runs specially for our New York store.
Where are the hats usually made?
We make some in Italy, some in the UK, some in the far East. A lot more have been made here in America in the past year. But they’re made all over the world, wherever the style originates. For example, Panama hats are made in Ecuador because that’s the place they originated. They were being worn while the Panama Canal was built, so people started calling them Panama hats.
Do you see much of a difference in styles between New York and San Francisco?
Well, some shapes get popular in New York first, then come out to California, but other shapes start in California and then come out to New York. Within twelve months, I feel like whatever happens here follows in New York and vice versa. Obviously, in the winter time we’re expecting that colder weather hats—hats with earflaps, trooper hats, fur-lined hats—are going to be much more popular in NY than California. Other than that, I think there’s a lot of similarities. Fedoras were really big this summer on both coasts. Now with fall, everyone’s starting to move into flat caps—what some people call "driver caps."
The one thing that has happened in New York, especially Brooklyn, is the wider brim fedora. It’s more of a conservative look. In California people are into the more casual narrow brims, but in NY it’s more about the wide brims. That’s the traditional older person’s hat, but a lot of younger people have adopted it. People are into pocket squares, suspenders—hats are just one of those kinds of accessories that help bring people back to a different time.
· Goorin Bros. Hat Shop Tops Off Bleecker Street [Racked NY]
· RackedWire: Goorin Brothers Hat Shops [Racked NY]
· Goorin Bros. [Official Site]