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Nearly a century of experience makes for high-quality law enforcement headwear

Your hat is more important than you might think – here’s why

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Today Stratton Hats outfits the majority of U.S. law enforcement personnel, including 47 of 50 state police agencies.

Stratton Hats

Like the early 2020s, the late 1960s were a difficult time for relationships between American law enforcement and their communities. Divisive social issues roiled society, and conflicts between police and citizens were frequent and sometimes violent.

Jurisdictions tried various measures to reconcile the gap, including tinkering with police uniforms to make officers appear friendlier and less intimidating. One city that attempted that was Menlo Park, California: In 1969, the city swapped its PD blues for shirts, ties and forest-green blazers. The move initially appeared successful – but then turned, with assaults on officers rising sharply. Ultimately, the department determined, the blazers simply didn’t command enough respect. By the late 1970s Menlo Park returned to more traditional police attire, and the assaults receded.

Other departments had similar experiences. Hundreds followed Menlo Park’s initially promising lead, but none are known to have retained blazers for beat cops. Police uniforms, it appears, need to project a different kind of authority. Even a move to baseball caps by the New York Police Department in the 1980s was abandoned because they just seemed less professional.

“The uniform provides a shield,” psychologist Michael Solomon told the New York Times in a 1994 article on the NYPD’s reversal. “I think it’s a backlash to the touchy-feely approach that drove many departments to make themselves less intimidating. Now it’s swinging back the other way because there is the feeling it didn’t work.”

Thirty years later, that lesson seems relevant again.


Hats have historically been an important component of the police ensemble, going back nearly 200 years in Western nations.

Officers in London sported stovepipe top hats as far back as 1829 and switched to their more familiar custodian (bobby’s) helmets – initially made of cork to protect against blows to the head – in 1863. Those also became popular in 19th-century America, but by the 20th U.S. cops had moved on to their more familiar modern choices: peaked caps for municipal police, Stetsons or campaign hats in sheriffs’ departments. And while some departments have experimented around the edges here and there since, that’s largely where things have stayed.

A 2024 article by Hat Realm’s Taylor James cited five reasons hats have remained popular in law enforcement:

  • Identification and recognizability
  • Status
  • Physical protection
  • Protection from the elements
  • Tradition
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Graduates of the Michigan State Police’s recruit academy sport Stratton Hats.

Stratton Hats

The second of those reasons – status – has a role of special importance. The right hat conveys dignity, seriousness and command. “With the professionalization of police officers,” explained James, “the discipline and training associated with the military brought with it the tradition of wearing formal hats.”

For that key component of their kit, many departments turn to Stratton Hats. A fourth-generation family-owned company, the Illinois-based manufacturer is the largest uniform hatmaker in the United States. It provides a range of styles in felt and straw not only for police and sheriffs but also for wearers across organizations like the U.S. Army, National Park Service, Homeland Security and Border Patrol.

“It’s a family-owned business and a real feel-good story, but the quality of the hat is also amazing,” said Nancy Young, who oversees the company’s marketing. “The process they go through, the quality of the hats and their history of being around so long make it a really good story.”

The story began in 1935 with the initial Chicago hat business created by founder Steven G. Stratton. The company originally made dress hats for civilians – a big business in the early 20th century. It hired locally and became so well regarded in its community that it was one of the few businesses spared while more than 100 others burned during Chicago’s 1968 westside riots.

By then, however, the focus of the business had shifted. In the 1950s, as police forces professionalized and uniform demands grew, states began having trouble sourcing uniform hats and companies to make them. And across society, social hat-wearing began to decline. President John F. Kennedy, elected in 1960, routinely went hatless, and while he agreed to wear one to his 1961 inauguration, he removed it to speak – a famous contribution to the demise of American hat-wearing.

There were other factors at play as well, but the result was that Americans stopped wearing dress hats, and Stratton adapted to serve a new market.

Today Stratton Hats outfits the majority of U.S. law enforcement personnel, including 47 of 50 state police agencies. Key attributes of the hats include opaque, sun-shielding brims that protect wearers from UV rays and reduce cancer risks; quality domestic construction using all-natural raw materials; custom sizing, durability and comfortable fit.


Cancer protection is a notable benefit for officers who spend lots of time outdoors, exposed to the sun. A 2022 Canadian study found police and firefighters had elevated risk of skin melanomas as well as other cancers when compared to other workers, and a 2023 review of data from Nordic nations calculated a 7% excess cancer risk for male officers, which included skin melanomas.

Similarly, a review of studies of skin cancers in the U.S. military revealed elevated melanoma risks and increased rates of both melanoma and non-melanoma cancers related to service in tropical environments. “Several of the reviewed studies,” those authors also noted, “implicated increased sun exposure … and lack of sufficient sun protection as the causes of higher rates of skin cancer among U.S. military and veteran populations.”

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Stratton Hats founder Steven G. Stratton

Stratton Hats

Offering protection against the sun, as climate warms and cancer risks rise, was a key differentiator for Stratton Hats as it contended for the California State Police contract some 35 years ago.

“We tried for years to get that account and couldn’t get it,” recalled Young. “Then there was a study about how hat brims could stop UV rays. In California, that was a big thing to be able to say.”

“That was part of the whole reason why they signed up with us,” added Steven W. Stratton, grandson of the company’s founder and one of numerous family members still involved in the company’s operations. “They wanted the protection from those rays hitting their face.”

Another element in the state’s decision was that Stratton Hats uses only natural rabbit fur byproduct in its felt – rabbits aren’t killed to make the hats. That byproduct comes from Europe (Americans don’t eat enough rabbit to produce it), but otherwise the hats are entirely sourced and manufactured domestically. The company’s wholly owned Winchester Hat Corporation subsidiary produces the fur felt and straw bodies, which then go to the company’s headquarters in Illinois for forming and finishing.

All of Stratton’s uniform and Western hats are custom-fit, and the company offers the widest range of sizes and shapes available in the U.S. market today. In addition to regular sizes from 6½ to 7⅞, it offers long, extralong and wide oval options in most sizes – that’s the most choices of any public safety manufacturer. “That’s another quality that makes our hats attractive to customers,” noted Stratton. “Heads are a lot like fingerprints – they’re very unique.” Client departments receive a size-ring kit to help each wearer ensure optimum comfort and fit.

The company’s dress hats include porkpie, center-crease, center-pinch, derby, gambler and fedora varieties. Customizations can include shape, size, hat color, ribbon color, brim length, finish and more. Additionally, Stratton offers accessories such as rain covers, brim presses and straps and cords.

That’s enough selection to keep officers looking good and projecting the right image – distinguished and authoritative yet approachable – no matter what their daily interactions bring.

For more information, visit Stratton Hats.

John Erich is a Branded Content Project Lead for Lexipol. He is a career writer and editor with more than two decades of experience covering public safety and emergency response.