Now that you have committed to wearing a hat, I am not going to mention that you are in good company, from Bogart to Depp, hats have been a symbol of rakish individualism. I am not going to mention this because you are doing this for yourself and are not emulating any icon. Besides, copying others is rarely identified with individualism.
No, you have arrived here on your own, after trying various jackets, boots, whatever else, the path has lead here, to this hat: The Stetson Stratoliner. If you are wearing a suit, tie, overcoat, and you want to complete the look with a hat… you could wear a beanie. But there is nothing less stylish than taking all of those angles of fabric and rounding them off with a watch cap — you need a Stratoliner.
Now that we have the “why” out of the way, let’s get into the “what.” Since, this is a review, so let’s get reviewing.
The Safari Hat is one of the most comfortable fishing hats I’ve worn yet (although it’s not made specifically for fishing). It breathes well for those hot days on the water and while it’s not my personal preference of style, it does the job better than other hats I own. That said, if you like the whole safari look, (and want a hat for warm summer days), read on.
I’ll preface this by saying that I’m rough on my hats, and get a new one every couple of months at least. First receiving the Stetson, I was surprised at how durable the hat felt. I’m used to wearing baseball caps on the water, and mostly they are pretty flimsy, but holding the Stetson you can tell that it’s built to last. During guide trips I hooked flies on the brim for storage and it spent plenty of time getting tossed around the back of a truck and it still looks brand new.
Like I mentioned before, I wear baseball caps. A lot. Like every day. I’m not a huge fan of the aesthetics of Safari and Cowboy Hats that Stetson is famous for, mostly because I have a narrower face, so a big wide brim on a hat looks pretty dumb on me. However, some people look great in these hats, and for a safari hat it’s pretty slick. While I may not be a fan of the style, it’s a good one for many other fisherman.
Now the part where the Stetson shines. After about 15 minutes on the water I forgot that I was wearing it. Part of this is due to how lightweight it is, and part of it is the soft padded band on the inside of the hat. The biggest problem that I have with some of my baseball caps is the pressure they put on my sunglasses. The Stetson however rides high enough on your head to not touch your sunglasses, keeping you comfortable all day.
All of this is great, but my favorite thing about this hat is it’s breathability. I can’t stand summer because I get hot and sweaty easily. It’s the tail end of spring here in the Ozarks, so I didn’t get to test the hat in real Arkansas heat, but I tested it in high 80’s which is enough to make me pretty miserable, and this hat kept me cool all day. In terms of functionality this is the best hat I’ve ever worn.
For $50 the Stetson seems like a steal to me, especially if you’re into the aesthetics. This hat will easily last years of abuse and still perform. I’ve got a felt cowboy hat, which is the more classic style that many fly fisherman choose to wear, and it cost me about twice as much and doesn’t perform as well. The durability and functionality easily justify the price point, and if you already wear cowboy hats or safari hats, this one is a no brainer.
- 4.5″ crown
- 2.5″ brim
- Flat brim
The Stetson Stratoliner is a classic design and there are many reasons for this. It’s proportions, materials, and colors have refined down through the ages in a perfect adaptation to the urban landscape. Now firmly ensconced in our minds as the Platonic ideal of a fedora. It named after a Boeing 307 Stratoliner aircraft, a state of the art plane from 1940, and each hat shipped with a pin of the plane on its narrow ribbon that circles its 4½ inch crown. The top of the crown styled in a tear drop shape, which very flattering to a variety of head shapes. The brim a rakish 2½ inches, not narrow and not a bush hat either. Perfection.
A 4½ crown considered a fairly low crown height. (In comparison, Indiana Jones’ hat was 5½.) This makes the Stratoliner much more balanced and modern, since modern hats tend to have lower crown heights. This was originally so that it was easier to wear traveling: going from taxi to train to plane to car. This design and these dimensions work well in our modern world. There is far less headroom in a Tesla than a vintage Packard.
For my 7⅜ head, the Stratoliner is incredibly balanced. The brim has a nice snap. It both shields and compliments my face, resting lightly just above my meaty ears with a brim large enough to shield them from rain and a crown that acts as ballast to my knobby chin.
The Materials, Colors, & Price
- Fur felt
The Stetson Stratoliner comes in a wide variety of colors and materials for whatever weather or situation you face in life. All Stratoliners have interior sweatbands and grosgrain narrow ribbons. It’s this ribbon that really makes a Stratoliner. It is near identical to the one on an Open Road, but this hat carries none of the Open Road’s Western aspirations. This hat is much dressier. It is a hat for a nice dinner, for the office, for sophisticated travel.
Each Stratoliner comes with a metal pin of the airplane affixed to the ribbon and all are made by hand in Garland, Texas. Let’s begin at the least expensive option and work our way up.
Straw Stratoliner Milan
The Stratoliner Milan Fedora at $95 is not an entry level hat. This is made of what they call Florentine Milan straw, a very durable material that was originally made from hand-braided wheat in a process that is now very costly. Most modern Milans use hemp or synthetic fibers of some mix of both. Stetson does not overtly say what their Milan is made from. Evidently, there is a region in China still producing them in the original way at lower price points.
These hats come in Cognac, Beige (that is very light, nearly white), Sand (that looks closer to what I would call beige), and Gray. It has a cowhide sweatband which is durable and functional. Depending on what they are actually made of, this is a fair price for a fair weather hat that will stand up to seasons of wear and casual use. If you wanted to wear a Stratoliner to the beach or the pool, this is the one. It oozes laid back coolness.
The Stratoliner Hemp Fedora is $155 and comes in Black, a rich Brown, Natural, Navy, and Sage. These are nice earthy tones in a nice robust material, again geared toward warmer seasons and climates. The Hemp & Milan have a much more casual feel than their fur felt big brothers. These are great for shielding you from the sun, tossing on booths in diners, and even work with short pants, a risky sartorial maneuver if there ever was one.
The Ultralight Stratoliner
The Ultralight Stratoliner at $175 has a Drilex Sweatband. These are moisture control sweatbands designed to keep you cool and dry in warm temperatures. It comes in Gray Mix & Olive Mix and has a wooly finish, like an overcoat. They are crushable and easy to travel with, and their texture makes them a bit more of an outdoor friendly Stratoliner, if such a thing exists, and would pair well with wools and Tweeds. Personally, I prefer travel fedoras from Christies with their Foldaway model that rolls neatly into a tube, but that is a review for another day. I am unsure if I would spend $175 for this hat when for $20 more I could have the definitive article.
The Stratoliner Fedora
The Stratoliner Fedora at $195 is where this hat really shines. These hats are made from high quality fur felt, probably a mix of rabbit and other furs, and finished to a flat, consistent, velvety feel. The ones I have seen recently are very consistent and without the bulges and bunches they suffered six or seven years ago. They are back in fine form.
This hat is THE Stratoliner and is that sweet spot with being refined enough to wear as a dress hat, but not so precious that if you leave it on a bus or if it gets swept off your head by the winds you are out too much cash.
The Stratoliner comes in Black, Caribou, Natural, Sage (this Sage is very dark, like a mossy primordial forest green), Silverbelly (The Stetson Classic, but when I see this color, I always think it belongs on the Open Road), and Walnut (a very beautiful, light orangey brown that may be tough to match for some, but would look amazing complimenting stripes in a suit or a scarf).
I chose Caribou for mine since it works so well with the blues and grays of the banker’s business wardrobe. Caribou is nice mid-gray with brown tones. I have worn mine for short runs in the rain and snow for several years now without requiring a re-block. (A re-block is when your hat looses its shape and needs to go in for service, where they stream it and force it back down onto a wooden block to return it to its original form.)
I find that the material is soft and luxurious enough for dress, but still tough enough to weather all but a complete soaking.
The Pure Stratoliner
The Pure Stratoliner produced in limited numbers and is $395. This a Pure Beaver fur felt Stratoliner. Pure Beaver the best felt there, although there are grades of this. Stetson utilizes this felt in their cowboy hats and this hat is nice, dense, smooth — but what it isn’t is soft, or at least soft enough. I don’t see the purpose in spending nearly double for a hat that is not remarkably softer or lighter than its less expensive counterpart, but many prefer it because of its extraordinary durability.
But who wants to worry that much about a hat that you will be checking in at a restaurant?
“May I take your hat, Sir?”
“Ah, no, I think I’ll hold onto it,” lest it get smashed beneath an onslaught of Canada Goose parkas or tossed in the corner with the mop.
The Performance/Water Resistance
Fedoras are not high performance hats; their primary function is to balance out the other clothes you are wearing. In this regard, The Stratoliner is perfect. It can also shield your eyes from the sun and in a quick dash from taxi to door, or subway to home, it can keep some rain and snow at bay. Too much of either will have it wilt and flop around your head like clump of wet newspaper. In the old days, people had plastic covers for their hats when out in the elements.
Fedoras are more fashion than function and should treated as such. If it’s going to rain, leave it home or carry an umbrella. Fedoras are perfect beneath the batwing canopy of a nice umbrella.
Will it keep you warm? Not really, or at least not without earmuffs. People used to wear them with these too. Do I recommend this? No. I don’t like pocket protectors either.
I have worn mine in the rain and snow. I always shake the snow off before bringing it inside, and I place. It on its crown to dry upside down and not distort that hat. I have had mine for close to seven years and it has held up to casual benign neglect and looks reasonably new.
Stetson is a Heritage Brand that has been making hats since the mid 19th century. At its peak it occupied a 9-acre factory in my hometown, Philadelphia. These days they have pursued the popularity of their Western hats and set up shop in Garland, Texas, where they still make hats by hand and to very high standards, especially for this price point.
Despite some ups and downs in Stetson’s Quality Control over the years, lately, I would say that they are on a roll. Recent hats that I have owned and inspected look very nice, with only the occasional exposed stitch from under a ribbon. The ribbon on the Stratoliner, like its western influenced cousin, The Open Road, is narrow and more difficult to hide stitches beneath.
The felt and materials are top notch. You may not find perfection, but you will find a very nice, well crafted hat from a Heritage Brand for under $200. (Unless, you splurge on the Pure Beaver, but I did ask you not to, so let’s set that aside.) (In all seriousness, $395 for a pure beaver hat is quite reasonable.)
They use nice leathers for the sweatband and they attach them well with tight regular stitches — I have never had them come loose. They do their job of keeping the sweat from discoloring the felt. The Satin liner, emblazoned with the Stetson logo, is nice and stays in place. The ribbons tacked on and they could do a better job of hiding these stitches. But it a narrow band so there that to consider.
These are good, solid hats and if you keep it under $200 they are a tremendous value.
Chances are that if you have come this far in your deliberations as to whether or not to buy this hat, you have already thought a whole lot about the style. You’ve probably seen Stetson’s marketing materials with bearded men in tailored jackets wearing them standing in deserts and vineyards. Maybe you have images of Bogart standing on a rain swept runway watching Ilsa and Laszlo taxi their way to freedom. (Different hat, same idea.) Musicians wear hats like these, looking effortlessly cool holding instruments and smiling beneath their tilted brims.
These hats are dressy and look amazing with suits. I have worn mine with my Brooks Brothers Fitzgerald suits, repp ties, and oxford shirts. In colder temps, I have a Brooks Brothers overcoat in a subtle gray houndstooth. It looks amazing, and even better with a fastidiously tied scarf.
I’ve also worn it with my Barbour International jacket for some casual sprezzatura. The Milan and Hemp versions look great with a guayabera or a short-sleeve button-up. I’d wear the Milan with a swimsuit and linen shirt, toss it casually on the sand before diving in.
This is still an excellent hat to travel with. Wear it to the plane with a tailored jacket and you find yourself upgraded. Walk into any hotel in the world and no one will question you at the door. They may look for the paparazzi trailing you. This hat is endlessly Instagrammable, even on its own, put it on your head and its magic.
This is a sophisticated hat for complicated people, people courageous enough to cast their own character, to borrow some of its silver screen history to add to their personal power. This is not a hat to hide under. It is a hat to be seen in.
It is amazing that these hats are still handmade in the United States and available for under $200. I don’t recommend spending over this, but if Pure Beaver something. You are focused on and you do not want to go the vintage route, under $400 not an obscene sum for this material.
I think that the best value is The Stratoliner Fedora at $195. It’s felt very thin, well finished, and soft to the touch. This is a lot of hat for the price and an excellent value.
As with anything, you can hunt around or wait for a sale. All of these hats fairly priced and will last for years.
Stetson Stratoliner Maintenance/Care
The maintenance for all hats is the same and very important. Make sure you have a hat box or save the box it came in. You can also buy a hat box at Home Goods if you want something more decorative. The important thing is to store it in there upside down with plenty of room so that it isn’t stuffed in distorting the brim. This is also why you should always rest your hat on its crown so that the brim will not bend. Because a wobbly brim is difficult to get rid of once the wrinkles set in. A hatter can fix this, however, and there are more of them out there than you realize.
If this hat gets soiled, unless you are going for that Johnny Depp aged look, you’re going to have to send it into a hatter for a cleaning. This usually costs around $50. You may want to consider choosing a darker color so that dirt and stains do not show as easily.
If you are determined to clean it yourself, use the mildest soap you can find diluted with plenty of water, you want it to barely form suds. Use this solution to spot clean it with a clean sponge. Let it dry away from light and then brush it after. Brushing it will restore the luster of the felt, unless you rub too much soap in there.
Speaking of brushes, you need a hat brush. A hat brush will sweep away any loose dirt, dust, and keep your felt fresh. Here’s my preferred hat brush.
Don’t worry too much, if your hat ends up in a monster puddle or gets crushed flat, as a hatter can restore it to its former glory. They can professionally clean, re-block, and finish your hat to its original dimensions. It’s even an opportunity for you to add some customization. Do you want a wider ribbon? That can done and in almost any color you can think of. Prices for this vary by location, but average around $75.
The Stetson Stratoliner is an iconic dress hat. This is usually not your first hat, unless you have a job. Where you wear a suit and you want to wear it with it everyday. But if you get into hats, sooner or later you will want one. This is a hat that you break out for special occasions, for a bit of rakish charm, for an air of cosmopolitan sophistication. It is a hat to complete your character, that final piece from wardrobe to finish your look.
There is something to owning a Stetson. It’s one of the great heritage brands up there with Red Wing, Filson, and L.L. Bean. Stetson still makes most of their hats here in the USA holding a more consistent thread with their heritage bona fides.
There may be jibes, but there will also be nods of approval, conversations initiated, friendships made. Someone will buy drinks. Your world will open wider. Maybe it’s not so bad being a hat guy after all.