The Making of a Cowboy Hat - Western Horse & Gun - March issue



There’s just something about a cowboy hat. A cowboy hat that can instantly transform any outfit. Cowboy hats that can help compliment the style of any cowboy or cowgirl. The shape, the color, the texture, all plays an integral part of the defining item. And as the cowboy hat is the most defining staple of a cowboy’s iconic image, there’s something significant about a woman and a company that use their hard working hands to help mold and shape hats in decorating cowboys and cowgirls from all walks of life.

In 1968, Lavonna “Shorty” Kroger was partnering on a small western store in Moore, Oklahoma. She was challenged with not having the knowledge or experience in shaping hats. As she had a love for rodeo and competed riding bulls, she also had a passion and love in western wear
and cowboy hats. And when one of her brother’s sent her father’s hat to a manufacturer to be cleaned and they returned it ruined, Kroger decided to overcome a challenge and turn it
into success. As shaping cowboys was the small challenge, her idea of mastering the art of quality cowboy hats and starting her own business began to blossom.

“I didn’t have a clue how to shape hats. I taught myself how to shape hats using a hot tea kettle at rodeos.”

Coincidentally, she was introduced to a business owner who had the same name as her. After being introduced to Shorty Barnett, who owned a small shop in Oklahoma City, shaping
cowboy hats and owning a hattery was destiny. Receiving her nickname for being the youngest of the children in the family, with the help of her three siblings cleaning hats, Shorty purchased her new business in 1990, making her the only woman-owned and operated custom hattery in the United States.

As many hat companies use steam machines and molds to set creases in the crowns and brims of hundred of cowboy hats, Shorty’s Caboy Hattery always uses their craftsmens’ hands to help cowboys’ and cowgirls’ express themselves. From start to finish, each cowboy hat is touched by the hands of an employee, paying close attention to every detail and making sure to add the finishing touches to the brim and crown by hand only. Using only the highest quality materials and 100% beaver fur, the first stage begins with the “cone” shape of the hat.

As hands begin building the hat, the next step of the process starts with a complete “blank” as the hat is put into an antique machine called a “blocker,” that presses the crown. The crown ironing begins as ironing the crown sets the stiffness into the beaver fur creating a stiffness that it remembers and later becomes hand-shaped, allowing the steam to completely dry. These processes separate Shorty’s Hattery from others because most companies automate the process and mass produce what they consider “custom” hats. When the hat is completely dried, the crown is monitored as it is ironed using a machine that only the most accomplished hatter’s own. The creation of the brim begins when it is hand-ironed to set its stiffness, just like the crown. Once the brim remembers its stiffness, a hat flange is placed on the
brim over night.

The hat is removed from the crown and then using the stamping machine, that hat brand is stamped with the clients’ name, information and the stiffness of the hat (80X, name, etc.). The delicate processes begin as the hat transforms from a single piece of beaver fur into a lid that protects and adorns cowboys and cowgirls. A customized hat band and lining of the hat are sewn in. Once the construction of the hat is complete, one of the most important parts of custom hat making begins to bloom. The perfect amount of steam is added to the beaver fur to make sure it is flexible enough for the shaping process. Shorty’s Hattery artists began to work their magic as they apply the right amount of pressure and finesse to start giving the hat
life and character. And as quality and durability is of the upmost important to the company, a cowboy or cowgirl will never have to worry about using a “rain hat” to cover their hat. Because Shorty’s only uses the best beaver fur. If a hat has been exposed to the rain, placing it in a well-ventilated place to dry is all it that is needed to retain its original shape and stiffness. Rain will not damper, ruin or make the color of the custom hat run.

Because of the quality and craftsmanship of Shorty’s cowboy hats, her hats speak for themselves. Cowboys and cowgirls from all over sport Shorty’s Hatterys, in and out of the arena, and all over the winner’s circle. Kroger is a winner in the hattery industry; After only spending three years at the small shop she purchased in 1990, with the demand from cowboys
and cowgirls wanting more hats, she out grew the 1,900 square foot building. The company relocated to their current home in Historic Oklahoma City, Stockyards.

As color, style and cowboys and cowgirls differ, Shorty’s Hattery takes the time to get to know each customers’ needs, pay attention to facial features and determine which styles and colors will contribute and represent the customer best.

“My favorite part of my business is selling hats, seeing old friends and not only meeting new customers, but making friends for life. I also love supporting youth events.They are the next generation of horsemen and women.”

From beaded to crystal embellished, hides, laser cutting, engraving, specialty, custom and traditional, horsemen and women, cowboys and cowgirls, and lovers of western fashion
turn to Shorty and her staff for help in all of their hat needs. Singers like Joni Harms and Keith Burns rock the stage in Shorty’s lids. Professional horsemen and rodeo competitors from K.C. Jones and Tammy Fisher to Tanya Jenkin and Tracer Gilson can be seen winning championships and titles in their custom Shorty cowboy hat. But in the eyes of Shorty,
“Anyone who wears a Shorty Hat is famous!”

Visit, for Shorty’s Shop and further
information. Images courtesy of Oklahoma Farm and Ranch