How to Buy a Vintage Hat, According to an Expert

Cole McBride of Portland shop Kissing Booth explains what to look for, what to avoid and the names (and brands) to know.

three men wearing vintage clothes
Kissing Booth

Hats, like socks or underwear, can get a little dingy. They soak up sweat, fade from the sun and eventually lose their shape. But ones that withstand, whether because they've been kept on ice or carefully cared for, are worth buying, especially if they're decidedly retro-looking or hysterically esoteric.

A vintage hat is much cooler than a deadstock New Era cap you see baseball players wearing. They often have a better, more flattering shape, and are far more unique.

Shopping for one isn't as easy as just picking your favorite team or band logo. As it is with anything vintage, you need to know what condition it's in and who made it — markers that'll determine whether it has just a few wears or another few decades left in it. To help with your search, we asked Cole McBride of Portland vintage shop Kissing Booth to explain what to look for, what to avoid and how to care for the one you do eventually buy.

man wearing a vintage hat and shirt
Kissing Booth

What to look for when buying a vintage hat

"Typically we look for style and condition to start. Our hats typically range from 1940’s-90’s so the condition varies hat to hat. We typically focus on Americana memorabilia for hats, ie cigarette companies, sports hats, car companies, local farming hats. It’s really just a type of style. Once you spot it, you know."

What to avoid when buying a vintage hat

"Some hats are easier to mend than others, that being said we usually take anything in unless it's downright stanky. Plastic back straps are pretty easy to replace so that’s not such a huge hurdle. Broken or fragile bills on the other hand are much harder to replace so we typically avoid any hats with really messed up bills."

Vintage hat brands to know

"K-Products are definitely a shop favorite for us. The shape on them is just really nice and looks great on everyone. Old wool New Era ones are also a favorite, usually we find them in smaller sizes, but every once in awhile we’ll get a size that fits one of us and those are gems."

How to clean a vintage hat

"If the hat is extra stanky you can soak them in the tub or do a hand wash. Usually the inner band will be really dirty so you can take some warm water and soap and scrub with a toothbrush. If you’re soaking the hat we’d recommend putting the back strap to your head shape and stuffing a towel inside so that it can dry to the shape. You can even hit it with a light starch spray so that it keeps its shape."

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