Joe Peters at Peters Brothers' Hats of Fort Worth hates gimme caps. "They're a health hazard," Peters says of the baseball-style caps. Without the full brim of a hat, Peters says, Americans are risking skin cancer due to exposure to the sun. Of course, Peters might be a little prejudiced against the popular headwear because his family business has been supplying full-brim custom- and factory-made Western hats and fedoras since 1911.
Every president from Calvin Coolidge to Jimmy Carter has received a Peters Brothers hat. Coolidge returned his, saying he preferred the stove-pipe style, and Carter returned his, saying he couldn't accept gifts. President Kennedy was presented a Peters Brothers hat just hours before he was assassinated in Dallas.
In a crowded building a block north of the convention center, Peters carries on the business started by his grandfather and great-uncle. Peters says that if his grandfather Tom Peters walked into the shop today -- he died in 1991 -- he could go right back to work.
Custom-made hats is a specialty business that is labor-intensive, but there is nothing like the fit, feel, and finish of a hat made for an individual, Peters says, who runs the shop with his son Joe, Jr. and a small group of employees. They start with a blank that looks like a floppy, cone-shaped, hillbilly hat. The blanks are made of a blend of beaver, rabbit, and hare fur. The more beaver fur in the material, the better it resists water and holds its shape, Peters says.
Using many of the tools and molds that his grandfather used until 1989, the modern-day Peters block, plate, trim, and flange the hat to the customer's exact size and specifications. They will even add your brand and name to the sweat band. Unlike mass-produced hats, custom hats offer a choice in different crowns and in-between sizes. "Individuality is coming back into hat wearing," Peters says.
Peters Brothers' Hats began when Tom and Jim Peters bought a small, wooden building in downtown Fort Worth to open a shoe shine parlor in 1911. The pair of Greek immigrants had shined shoes at the Cotton Palace Celebration in Waco earlier that year and took their earnings of $600 to start the business. As a sideline, Tom also dyed and cleaned hats for customers.
When World War I broke out in Europe, the Peters Brothers had 36 men working in their shoe shine business. After the war, Tom went to Philadelphia to work for John Stetson to learn the art of hat making. The 1947 phone book had 14 hat makers working in Fort Worth. Fifty years later, the Peters Brothers' shop is the only one still in business.
In 1933, Jim Peters died and the shop moved to its present location at 909 Houston. By 1973, the last shoes were shined at Peters Brothers and Tom concentrated on the hat business. With the help of his grandson Joe, Tom ran the shop until he was 98 years old. He died just short of his 101st birthday. "My father and an uncle went into other careers," Joe Peters said, "and they both died young." He is looking forward to teaching his grandson, Thomas Peters, the craft.
It was Amon Carter, publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, who made the Peters Brothers' Western hats famous. Carter began a tradition of giving visiting dignitaries and celebrities a hat from the Fort Worth shop. The Peters thanked Carter by naming the style of hat that he preferred the "Shady Oaks," after the publisher's ranch. It is estimated that Carter gave away between 7,000 and 8,000 of the hats in a 50-year period.
The tradition was revived recently when President Clinton visited Fort Worth and was given a Shady Oaks hat by the newspaper's current publisher. The shop had 24 hours to manufacture a
73/8 hat for the president.
"Hats are not so much fashion as self-defense against the Texas sun," Peters said. Still, movies seem to have a lot to do with the hat business. The movie Urban Cowboy increased sales for Western hats and the Indiana Jones series of movies sold a lot of fedoras.
During the 1960s the custom of wearing hats took a nose dive. With many of the baby boomers developing 6-inch parts in their hair, Peters sees a return to hats.
A custom-made, hand-fitted, top-of-the-line Shady Oaks hat goes for around $850 (the shop also sells a cabinet-quality cedar hat box). They also have a custom-fitted Shady Pine hat for as low as $150. As dealers for mass-manufactured hats like Stetson, Resistol, and Dobbs, Peters Brothers gives personalized service on all their hats. Besides making new hats, the shop also cleans and restores old hats. The shop is open Monday-Saturday, 10am-6pm. For more information, call 817/335-1715.
Coming up this weekend...
Westfest celebrates Czech food and music with lots of games, entertainment, and a rodeo in West, Aug. 30-31. 817/826-5058.
Featherfest in Nixon includes bull riding, cookoffs, exhibits, and lots of fun at the Livestock Show Grounds, Aug. 29-31. 830/582-1414.
World Championship Barbecue Goat Cookoff and Arts & Crafts Fair in Brady's Richards Park happens on the Saturday before Labor Day, Aug. 30. 915/597-3491.
Ins and Outs of Innkeeping is a two-day conference in Round Top for aspiring bed & breakfast owners and those looking to improve their current business, Sept. 7-8. 800/HAT-0368.
Houston Industries Power of Houston celebrates the diversity of Houston with special events including a laser light show in downtown, Sept. 15-21. 713/684-6465.