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Gene Autry with his collection of Stetson hats, circa 1950s. Getty
Gene Autry with his collection of Stetson hats, circa 1950s. Getty

15 Broad-Brimmed Facts About Stetson Hats

Gene Autry with his collection of Stetson hats, circa 1950s. Getty
Gene Autry with his collection of Stetson hats, circa 1950s. Getty

In 1860, an ailing East Coast hat maker named John Batterson Stetson headed west to mine for gold. He didn’t strike it rich, but he ended up with something much more valuable: the design for the first commercially successful cowboy hat. In the decades that followed, the John B. Stetson Company defined the look of the American cowboy. And as the country’s sartorial tastes evolved from ten-gallon hats to homburgs and fedoras, the company evolved along with it. Hard times followed, but the company rebounded, and today is experiencing a most unlikely resurgence. Here are a few facts about Stetson worth keeping under your hat.

1. IT ALL STARTED IN NEW JERSEY.

The man who pioneered the cowboy hat wasn’t a cowpoke or a former farmhand. Up until adulthood, he’d never traveled west of Ohio. Born in Orange, New Jersey, in 1830, John Batterson Stetson [PDF] was the seventh of 12 children born to Stephen Stetson, a well-known hat maker (the family reportedly made hats for George Washington). After spending his teenage years working for his father, John Stetson developed tuberculosis and decided to head west to recuperate—and while he was at it, try his hand mining for gold.

While mining and hunting around Pike’s Peak in Colorado, Stetson used the felting technique his father had taught him to make waterproof blankets. He also made a hat with a high crown and a broad brim that could protect the wearer from the sun and rain, probably inspired by the hats of the Mexican vaqueros. After Stetson sold the hat for $5 to a passing rider, he got the idea to turn his utilitarian design into a business.

2. STETSON TURNED $60 INTO AN EMPIRE.

Stetson returned east in 1865 penniless but determined to make money off the hat he’d created. He borrowed $60 from his sister Louisa, rented a small workshop in Philadelphia, and hired two workers to turn out more prototypes of the hat, which he called "Boss of the Plains." Stetson then sent letters, along with a sample hat, to dealers in the West, asking for an order of a dozen. The savvy move roped in droves of customers, many of them ranchers fanning out across the west during the postwar cattle boom. By 1915, Stetson had become the world’s largest hat company, with 5400 workers turning out more than 3 million lids annually.

3. THE BOSS OF THE PLAINS WAS THE COWBOY HAT.

Cowboys didn’t always wear broad-brimmed hats. Before Stetson’s design came along, Westerners donned a motley assortment of headwear, "from formal top hats and derbies to leftover remnants of Civil War headgear to tams and sailor hats," according to Ritch Rand and William Reynolds, authors of The Cowboy Hat Book. With its sun-blocking, rain-repelling capabilities, the Boss of the Plains was a useful accessory that quickly became the de facto work wear. Every morning, legions of cowpokes put on their Stetsons, and didn’t take them off until they went to bed.

4. EARLY CELEBRITY WEARERS INCLUDED ANNIE OAKLEY AND "BUFFALO BILL" CODY.

"Buffalo Bill" Cody, circa 1892. Wikimedia Commons

From film stars like Tom Mix and John Wayne to crooners like Bing Crosby and Bob Dylan, Stetson has long relied on celebrities to sell its image. This extends back to the company’s early days, when the likes of Annie Oakley, William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, and Calamity Jane donned Stetsons. Buffalo Bill, who did more than anyone to fashion the image of the Wild West, wore a broad-brimmed Stetson while sharp-shooter Oakley wore a ribbon-trimmed Stetson purchased by her brother-in-law in Wyoming. In 2012, Oakley’s iconic hat sold at auction for nearly $18,000.

5. BACK THEN, AS NOW, THE HATS WEREN'T CHEAP.

Stetson’s cowboy hats today range from around $50 for basic models to just shy of $400 for the intricately made Boss Raw Edge. More than 150 years ago, Stetsons were a not-insignificant investment, as well. The original Boss of the Plains sold for $5 in 1865, while a beaver fur version sold for as much as $30—more than most people made in a month. Today, you can get a Boss of the Plains hat for $135.

6. THEY WERE MORE THAN JUST HEADWEAR.

Getty

A big reason for the Boss of the Plains’s popularity was its versatility. Indeed, users found that the hat doubled as a fan, as a place for stashing valuables, and even as a bucket. Early advertisements showed a cowboy using his hat to water his horse. As the Texas State Historical Association notes, "Texas Rangers adopted the hat and found that it could be used to drink from, to fan a campfire, to blindfold a stubborn horse, to slap a steer, to smother grass fires and to serve as a target in gunfights. It could also be brushed for dress wear."

7. CREASES AND BRIMS TOLD A WEARER’S IDENTITY.

As Stetson hats spread across the country, people began altering them in ways that became indicative of wearers’ occupations, where they were from, and so on. Various bends in the brim and creases in the crown gained creative names, like the Carlsbad Crease (a back-to-front crease started by cowboys from Carlsbad, New Mexico), the Montana Peak (four creases in the crown that created a point) and the Bar Room Floor (a front crease large enough to have been created by a drunken tumble). As Rand and Reynolds note: "With a subtle adjustment to the brim and a couple extra dents in the crown, a man could indicate he was from the northern regions of Nevada or the rough plains of Texas, the wind-whipped ranges of the Rockies or the low deserts of New Mexico."

8. STETSON TURNED HAT MAKING INTO A RESPECTABLE TRADE.

The Stetson factory, circa 1910. Wikimedia Commons

The phrase "mad as a hatter," which referred to the unstable personalities of haberdashers supposedly brought on by the use of mercury nitrite in their trade, was in its heyday in the mid-19th century (although the precise etymology is up for debate). Not all hat makers were thus afflicted, of course, but the profession had a reputation for inefficiency, and for attracting unreliable eccentrics. Stetson did much to change that image by instituting a large-scale, assembly-line production facility that bested other industries for efficiency. Stetson paid his workers well, offered them lots of perks, and made sure they stayed on for years. Before Ford, GE, and other companies were employing ranks of loyal, long-serving workers, Stetson operated a self-sufficient community for his factory workers in Philadelphia, complete with a bank, restaurants, a library, and even a hospital.

9. STETSON DISCOURAGED ESPIONAGE.

During World War II, Stetson put out a series of ads telling people to keep America’s secrets safe. "Loose Talk Can Cost Lives," exhorted one. "Keep It Under Your Stetson," said another, Stetson's riff on the older, well-known phrase "keep it under your hat." In addition to its advertisements, Stetson also supplied Allied troops with parachutes, safety belts and, of course, hats.

10. SALES PEAKED IN THE '40s.

As popular as Stetson’s cowboy hats were, the company had to eventually diversify. In the early 20th century, Stetson branched out and began making dress hats and caps. In the '30s, the company began making women’s hats—pillboxes, tricornes, berets, and cloches. In the '40s, the company’s fedoras, homburgs, and Panama hats were all the rage. In 1947 Stetson had its biggest sales year, bringing in $29 million, equal to $300 million today. For nearly a century, the company had kept pace with the changing tastes of hat-loving Americans.

11. …AND THEN TANKED IN THE '60s.

Many Americans know the story: Beginning in the late '50s, hats began to go out of style as an everyday accessory. Many, including Stetson, point to a single event that seemed to usher in this new lidless era: John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration, in which the newly minted president turned down the top hat that every president before him had worn during the ceremony. Others cite the rise of driving culture, the counter-culture movement, and a simple lack of good designs. Whatever the reason, Stetson’s sales plummeted, and in 1968 the company took in just $8 million—a 70 percent drop from the company’s peak 20 years prior.

That same year, Ira Guilden, a majority stockholder, wrested control of the company from the Stetson family and eventually shut down the hat maker’s manufacturing facilities. From that point forward, Stetson was a licensing company only.

12. INDIANA JONES AND URBAN COWBOY GAVE THE BRAND A MUCH-NEEDED BOOST.

After Urban Cowboy came out in 1980, lots of people wanted to emulate John Travolta’s Stetson-topped look (and ride mechanical bulls, naturally). Likewise with whip-cracking, sable-colored fedora-wearing Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones films. To coincide with the release of 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Stetson came out with an Indy-licensed hat that sold like hotcakes. It was a bright spot for a company struggling to stay relevant.

13. THEY’VE BRANCHED OUT INTO BOURBON AND BELTS.

Beginning in the '80s, Stetson (known officially as Stetson Worldwide) licensed its name to accessory and apparel manufacturers keen on borrowing the brand’s image of Western cool. This included eyeglasses, luggage, and a popular cologne. These days, you can still buy Stetson cologne, along with Stetson wallets, belts, sunglasses, boots, jeans, and shirts. There’s also a Stetson brand bourbon that’s gotten some love from aficionados—"a pleasant combination of complexity, barrel expression, and approachability," as Bourbonblog.com puts it.

14. THE COMPANY NOW HAS LESS THAN 10 EMPLOYEES.

One hundred years after Stetson employed nearly 6000 workers at its sprawling, 9-acre factory in Philadelphia, market forces have whittled the company down to a small staff that occupies a modest space in New York’s Garment District. The manufacturing of Stetson hats, meanwhile, has traded hands over the past few decades, and now resides with Hatco, an operation based in Garland, Texas that also makes hats for competing brands like Resistol, Dobbs, and Charlie 1 Horse.

15. THEIR TARGET MARKET THESE DAYS? HIPSTERS.

The company that began by outfitting cowboys now has its sights set on well-heeled urbanites. The fedoras, newsboy caps, homburgs, and porkpie hats that have recently come back into style are bestsellers for Stetson. In place of pricey advertising, the brand, now led by fashion industry veteran Izumi Kajimoto, gives out free hats to celebrities like Bradley Cooper and Madonna in exchange for a promise they’ll wear the lids in public. Stetson’s classic Western hats have also become quite fashionable of late. Vogue magazine, for one, recommends wearing a cowboy hat with high-waisted jeans, a sweater, and a bomber jacket.

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Live Smarter
The Only Way to Answer ‘What Is Your Greatest Weakness?’ In a Job Interview
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Thanks in part to the influence of Silicon Valley and its focus on the psychological probing of job applicants, interview questions have been steadily getting more and more abstract. As part of the interview process, today's job seekers might be asked to describe a vending machine to someone who’s never seen one before, or plan a fantasy date with a famous historical figure.

Even if the company you’re approaching isn’t fully on board with prodding your brain, at some point you may still come up against one of the most common queries applicants face: "What is your greatest weakness?"

"Some 'experts' will tell you to try and turn a strength into a 'weakness,' to make yourself look good," writes Inc. contributor Justin Bariso. "That advice is garbage."

"Think about it," Bariso continues. "Interviewers are asking the same question to countless candidates. Just try and guess how many times they hear the answers 'being a perfectionist' or 'working too much.' (Hint: way too often.)"

While responding that you work too hard might seem like a reliable method of moving the conversation along, there’s a better way. And it involves being sincere.

"The fact is, it's not easy to identify one's own weaknesses," Bariso writes. "Doing so takes intense self-reflection, critical thinking, and the ability to accept negative feedback—qualities that have gone severely missing in a world that promotes instant gratification and demands quick (often thoughtless) replies to serious issues."

Bariso believes the question is an effective way to reveal an applicant’s self-awareness, which is why companies often use it in their vetting process. By being self-aware, people (and employees) can correct behavior that might be affecting job performance. So the key is to give this question some actual thought before it’s ever posed to you.

What is your actual greatest weakness? It could be that, in a desire to please everyone, you wind up making decisions based on the urge to avoid disappointing others. That’s a weakness that sounds authentic.

Pondering the question also has another benefit: It prompts you to think of areas in your life that could use some course-correcting. Even if you don’t land that job—or even if the question is never posed to you—you’ve still made time for self-reflection. The result could mean a more confident and capable presence for that next interview.

[h/t Inc.]

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Words
This Is the Most Commonly Misspelled Word on Job Resumes
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by Reader's Digest Editors

Your resume is your first chance to make a good impression with hiring managers. One misspelled word might not seem like a huge deal, but it can mean the difference between looking competent and appearing lazy. A 2014 Accountemps survey of 300 senior managers found that 63 percent of employers would reject a job candidate who had just one or two typos on their resume.

Most misspellings on resumes slip through the cracks because spellcheck doesn’t catch them. The most common misspelling on resumes is a shockingly simple word—or so you’d think.

Career coach and resume writer Jared Redick of Resume Studio in San Francisco tells Business Insider that the most common misspelling he sees by far is confusing “lead” with “led.” If you’re talking about how you run meetings at your current job, the correct spelling is “lead,” which is in the present tense. If the bullet point is from a former position, use lead’s past tense: led. Yes, “lead” as in the metal can also be pronounced “led,” but most people have no need to discuss chemical elements on their job resumes.

 
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Other spelling mistakes Redick has seen pop up over and over again on resumes is spelling “definitely” as “definately” (which spellcheck thankfully should catch) and adding an e in “judgment” (“judgement” is the British spelling, but “judgment” is preferred in American English).

To avoid the cringe factor of noticing little typos after sending out your application—especially if your misspelling actually is a real word that spellcheck recognizes—always proofread your resume before submitting. Slowly reading it out loud will take just a few minutes, but it could mean the difference between an interview and a rejection.

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