Hats, Caps, and Millinery

SIC 2353

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in the manufacture of hats, caps, millinery, and hat bodies. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing millinery trimmings are classified in SIC 2396: Automotive Trimmings, Apparel Findings, and Related Products. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing hats and caps of paper are classified in SIC 2679: Converted Paper and Paperboard Products, Not Elsewhere Classified, those manufacturing caps of rubber are classified in SIC 3069: Fabricated Rubber Products, Not Elsewhere Classified,; those manufacturing caps of plastics are classified in SIC 3089: Plastic Products, Not Elsewhere Classified, and those manufacturing fur hats are classified in SIC 2371: Fur Goods.

Industry Snapshot

The hat, cap, and millinery manufacturing industry continued a gradual decline in the 2000s, as did other apparel-related industries. Despite periodic surges in fashionable headwear sales, especially sports caps, the overall market remained relatively flat. Other fad-driven resurgences include knit beanies sported by snowboarders and other X-sports enthusiasts and emulators, and the red carpet presence of the fedora by such celebrities as Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake. Although usually short-lived, these trends were welcome developments for an industry whose fortunes had been steadily drifting downward since the early 1960s, when wearing hats began to be unfashionable across the country.

In addition to the baseball cap, which was the most popular form of casual headwear in America in the early twenty-first century, the industry's output included straw harvest hats; jungle-cloth helmets; opera hats; panamas; and hat bodies made from fur-felt, straw, and wool-felt. The industry supplied chauffeur caps, police hats and caps (excluding protective headwear), and various other uniform hats and caps to professional uniform services.

Cloth hats and caps, excluding millinery, accounted for the largest market share. Within this category, men's and boys' hats and caps were dominant, driven by sales of sports headwear bearing team logos. The second major product category was hats and hat bodies, except cloth and millinery. Next was the segment of hats, caps, and millinery products, not specified by kind. The last major product category was millinery (women's, children's, and infants' trimmed hats made from hat bodies and other millinery materials). This included hats made from felt, straw, pile fabrics, and ribbon.

The hat, cap, and millinery manufacturing industry had revenues of $471.1 million in 2008. Imports came from 108 countries--although the largest percentage came from China--and were valued at $1.1 billion. The much smaller export market was worth $80.1 million. Important export markets included Canada, Japan, and Mexico.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 152 U.S. establishments were involved in the manufacture of hats, caps, and millinery items in 2007. Of the establishments engaged in the production of hats, caps, and millinery, about 72 percent employed fewer than 20 employees. According to Dun and Bradstreet's 2009 Industry Reports, states employing a large number of workers in this category included New York, Missouri, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Alabama. New York was the number-one state in terms of revenue, followed by Texas, California, New Jersey, and Illinois.

Background and Development

Prior to the prevalence of not wearing hats, which took root during the flight to the suburbs of the 1950s and 1960s, no respectable man or woman would have thought of leaving the house without a hat. The survival of the hat industry was questionable during this time. Instead, the ability to produce and market an unending procession of new styles or variations of current popular styles was of vital concern to the successful firms competing in the industry. Since the life of a hat as a fashion accessory was typically short, the speed at which a firm was able to get in and out of a hot-selling style was the key to its success.

Although not totally isolated from the historical forces of technological change that swept through other apparel industries, until the 1990s, opportunities to mechanize and automate the industry proved difficult. As a result, production methods frequently required a great deal of handwork, so labor-intensive manufacture remained the industry's norm.

Men's Hats
As the twentieth century began, most men living in urban areas of the United States wore hats. From 1900 to around 1910, men could choose from a large variety of hats, and each style ostensibly reflected the personality of the wearer. One of the most prominent styles was the "princely" brown or black derby hat, which was available in three basic styles. At the time, most successful or aspiring businessmen sported the derby look. One of the more notable of these was financier J.P. Morgan, who popularized a flat-topped version of the derby.

The manufacture of the derby was a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Made from felt that was treated with repeated applications of a shellac solution, the material was heated and allowed to cool. As it cooled, it assumed a stiffened state. Then it went through an oven process, which softened it to the touch, followed by an iron mold process. To press the hat into its distinctive derby shape, a rubber bag was inserted inside the hat into which cold water was forced. Finally, the hat's brim was curled during a highly skilled operation that required a set of specialized tools referred to as "shackles."

Almost as popular as the derby was the fedora, which was made from soft felt. Except for its shaping process, the fedora's manufacturing process mimicked many of the steps involved in producing a derby. The hat was available in black, brown, and gray. It received its name from the popular drama Fedora, penned by Victorien Sardou.

Though derby and fedora hats remained popular U.S. favorites for decades, their popularity was challenged by the homburg. Made popular by King Edward's recreational visits to the town of Homburg in southern Germany, the homburg was of Tyrolean origin and featured a small brightly colored feather in the bow of its side band. By the time the hat achieved mass appeal, it was mostly available in black and was worn with an informal evening jacket.

During the 1920s, the U.S. men's fashion scene was heavily influenced by the British, particularly items connected to the pastimes of the Prince of Wales or associated with displays of wealth. For instance, in 1925 the English international tennis team arrived to play in Newport, Rhode Island, wearing brown snap-brim soft felt hats that the Prince of Wales had been seen wearing while on vacation just a short time earlier. These hats became the rage with wealthy crowds frequenting tennis matches and gained mass U.S. appeal. As an emphasis on dressing in style for leisure events and travel to warmer climates of the United States became more popular, panamas, which were woven from lightweight materials such as oatmeal, coconut, and rice straws, increased in popularity. Bangkoks and Ballibuntals, made from bamboo grasses or bamboo saplings growing wild in the Philippines, also became popular. Another lightweight favorite were Milan hats, made from Tuscan straw grown in Italy. Woven loosely, these hats offered protection from the sun and allowed for good ventilation.

Except for the affluent few, the Great Depression stopped the demand for hats. Nonetheless, British fashion influences continued, as evidenced by the sensation created by the introduction of the "porkpie" hat in 1934. A low-crowned hat of telescope type made from felt, the porkpie was first worn by well-to-do men who frequented polo games and horse races. Within a short time, the porkpie hat was accepted as appropriate attire for business as well as casual settings. After its initial introduction in felt, the porkpie became available in a variety of straws, including panamas, leghorns, and bangkoks.

Caps worn for purposes other than work also became popular during the 1930s. The checkered cap was deemed appropriate for golf and weekend motoring. For hunters, fishing enthusiasts, and country sports spectators, rough tweed caps were fashionable. Whether it was worn for work or leisure purposes, the production process for cloth-cap manufacture was practically the same. Cloth was cut by hand, usually with a manually operated knife, to ensure a precision pattern. The pieces were sewn carefully to ensure that the cloth's design matched, and special attention was paid to where the crown joined the visor. The cap was then steamed and ironed. Additional leather and linings were sewn in during the finishing stages. If the cap was unlined, the crown seams were filled with tape so the threads did not appear on the outside of the cap.

With economic production focused on the needs of the military, the war years of the 1940s reflected little change in terms of style or material in men's hats. In the post-war years, there was little change in the industry. By the early 1950s, the advent of manufactured fabrics, many of which were washable and lightweight, dramatically transformed the material base from which most apparel garments were constructed. In turn, the ongoing emphasis on lightweight materials translated into a boom for straw hats. Around the same time, the popularity of the low-crown porkpie hat increased, and the wearing of the small-shape strip tweed cap outside its more narrowly defined traditional sporting events boundaries was common. By the end of the decade, hats made from manufactured material such as nylon displaced straw hats, because they were lighter in weight and had more ventilation and durability.

Women's Hats
The reversals in the industry's millinery branch appeared to be the most permanent. Although there were several short-lived, fad-driven waves, these were insufficient to restore millinery to the level of its formative years in the 1950s, when more than 400 companies supplied hats worn by the majority of U.S. women. By 1989, fewer than 80 companies produced millinery articles.

In the mid-1990s, hats began to sell again as fashion accessories. To promote hats, 10 independent Chicago hat makers formed the Millinery Arts Alliance in 1995. As department store sales increased in 1994 and 1995, the industry seemed to be turning itself around, although to what level was still speculative. In 1997, graduates of New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, the only domestic school with a two-year millinery program, reached 500, 20 times the number of its graduates in 1987.

Sports Hats
Men's and boys' team logo sports headwear was the only other area breathing life into the struggling industry in the late twentieth century. Coupled with the increase in sales of hats as fashion accessories, this may have been sufficient enough to warrant a more optimistic outlook for the overall industry since the value of industry shipments for 1987 to 1994 rose significantly. Some of the top U.S. firms with leading market shares in the sports headwear market were American Needle, Starter, Logo 7, A.J.D Cap, Drew Pearson, and Apex. In an effort to eliminate the high cost of sewing labor, some firms experimented with heat-applied techniques to join sports headwear fabrics. The result of these experiments were mixed as some products proved to be of inferior quality.

Twenty-First Century Developments
As in most other sectors of the U.S. apparel industry, cap and hat manufacturing faced fierce competition from imports in the first decade of the twenty-first century. In order to compensate for the influx of imported millinery products, domestic manufacturers implemented several fundamental changes to meet the challenge, including consolidation, outsourcing, and domestic technological development.

Despite the dim picture the statistics painted, the industry as a whole continued to enjoy success in the U.S. economy in the early twenty-first century. Baseball caps remained enormously popular with boys and girls, men and women, and athletes and fans. Aside from sporting events, other social settings encouraged participants to don hats. Roughly 1 million members of the Red Hat Society, an organization of women 50 and older, wore red hats and purple dresses to teas, conventions, and other social events. Decorative hats were worn on Derby Day at the Kentucky Derby, an annual event that attracted some 156,000 horseracing fans to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, the first weekend in May each year.

Current Conditions

According to industry experts, the hat market more than doubled in the first decade of the twenty-first century, with fitted baseball caps becoming a must-have by mid-decade. Even so, like many industries in the United States, the hat industry suffered from the economic downturn of the late 2000s. For example, according to the New York Times, New Era Cap Co., which was the largest producer of sports hats in the nation (it manufactured 72,000 baseball caps a week) and official provider of caps for Major League Baseball players, experienced a 10 percent decrease in sales in 2009. The firm had laid off 40 percent of its workers in its Alabama factories by August 2009 due to decreased demand. Peter Augustine of New Era said, "We're seeing a very jittery landscape." Even New York Yankee hats, which historically outsold all other brands 3 to 1, were down, said Augustine, "despite the year they're having." In addition to looking for better value in sports hats, Americans were drawn to simpler designs and solid colors, especially purple, green, red, and black. Regarding the uncertain times for the industry, Marshal Cohen of the NPD Group stated that hat companies "can turn on a dime. One of the advantages of the hat business is they don't have to produce the product long in advance. They don't dictate the trend, they just adapt to it."


Employment levels continued to decline in the mid- to late 2000s, although the number of production workers remained relatively steady through this period, suggesting that any job loss was confined to management personnel. During the same period, when compared to other apparel industries, most of which experienced higher levels of decline for the categories of total employment and production workers, the hats, caps, and millinery industry fared rather well.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), sewing-machine operators made up the apparel manufacturing industry's largest occupational category, accounting for about 23 percent of employees. Machine operators accounted for some 6 percent of industry employment. Other leading occupational categories were first-line supervisors; inspectors and sorters; packagers and packers; and freight, stock, and material movers. Based on the expectation that the industry would continue along a moderate path of productivity growth, the BLS forecast that by 2016, each occupational category in the apparel manufacturing industry would experience double-digit negative growth.

American and the World

After the World Trade Organization was established in 1995, the Multifiber Arrangement (MFA), which allowed importing countries to limit the flow of imports from developing countries with lower costs, was replaced by the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC), which required that the MFA quotas be phased out over a 10-year period. Then, in 2005, all previous import quotas were removed for WTO member countries. By that time, the United States imported more than 50 percent of all apparel sold domestically. As textile and apparel imports from China flooded the U.S. market with a 22 percent share of the apparel market in 2005, domestic sales and prices were driven down. The fiber- producing sector of the U.S. textile industry joined with labor unions in early 2005 to petition the U.S. government to invoke the WTO safeguard mechanism to limit damages. The safeguard, which was incorporated in the WTO agreement, allowed China to continue to expand its exports to the United States but limited growth. When the agreement ended in 2008, the National Committee of Textile Organizations and other industry organizations lobbied Congress for a new import-monitoring program on Chinese products.

In November 2008, China's share of the U.S. apparel market reached a record 54 percent. Between 2008 and 2009, apparel imports from China, Vietnam, and India continued to increase. Figures from the Commerce Department's Office of Textiles & Apparel showed that in May 2009, apparel shipments from China totaled 592 million square meter equivalents (SME), up almost 9 percent from the same period the previous year. Shipments from Vietnam rose 2 percent to 120 million SME, and imports from India jumped 17.1 percent to 83 million SME.

Research and Technology

Hat and cap producers continued to look for ways to streamline the production process. One new technology breakthrough came in the form of the so-called direct-to-garment inkjet printer (DTG), which was similar to the common desktop inkjet printer except the output was created on fabric, such as T-shirts or caps, rather than paper. Previously, the garment had to be passed through a separate screen for each color in the design; the DTG could apply a variety of colors without the use of a screen and thus sped up printing time significantly. Also, according to Indigo Clothing of London, "The inks contain a 'fusing agent,' so when the design has been printed and heat pressed on the garments, the fusing agent enables the inks to permanently adhere to the fibers of the fabric." These new printers were advantageous for manufacturers producing short runs or personalizing relatively small quantities of items. The technology was still evolving in the late 2000s.

Another path-breaking technology that figured largely in all sports headwear firms' success came with the introduction of quick response (QR) systems. Seldom has a system been devised that was so in line with the apparel industry's business climate where rapid change, high-stakes risk, and oftentimes fickle consumer behavior play so important a role. By design, QR programs electronically link textile manufacturers, apparel producers, and retailers into a computerized information network analyzing consumer sales information. Its ultimate purpose is to shorten the turnaround time it takes for hot-selling items to arrive in retail stores considerably, minimize system-wide inventory levels, and reduce or eliminate slow-moving articles to prevent unwanted markdown. Other technological inroads were being forged through the application of computer-aided design and manufacture and laser beams used to cut cloth.

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News and information about Hats, Caps, and Millinery

The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA); October 19, 1998; 700+ words
...I could wear a baseball cap.'' The hat shop held a four-day sale of Jack McConnell signature hats. Any hat with a red feather - McConnell's hats all have one sewn inside...audience. Other Famous Millinery sales appeal to other groups...
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The Scotsman; July 1, 2005; 700+ words
...the Trilby or the flat cap their own. Hats are also now being embraced...Ornate, structured hats should be kept for formal...says Jelfs. "Trilby hats are great to wear about...incomplete without a hat. British-style icon...She, like many other millinery devotees, says she believes...
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...made 9,000 White Sox caps, and this year...million. Black baseball hats. Not the Yankees. Not...got one, the White Sox hat is the hottest bill in...Buffalo, one of 10 licensed hat manufacturers but the...if you want White Sox hats, you'll have to wait...which has every other team hat ...
US Fed News Service, Including US State News; August 12, 2010; 328 words
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The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY); July 23, 1995; 700+ words
...matter what style of hat it is, there is always...young girls are wearing hats now." Ms. Schaefer...taught in the craft of millinery, creates straw hats...now also designs "fun hats," including baseball caps adorned with vintage...new." She sells her hats locally at Main ...
Hot off the hat walk If you want to get ahead take a trip to Wonderland where you can lose yourself in millinery magic and find out about the latest styles, discovers Emma Cowing
The Scotsman; June 3, 2008; 700+ words
...the freedom afforded by hat designing. "The great thing about millinery is that to a large extent...part of the 20th century hats followed particular society...beanies to the baker boy cap which you'll still...unsure about wearing a hat, Faichney points out...than one purpose. "A hat ...
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The Irish Times; November 20, 2007; 400 words
...is yet another feather in the cap, so to speak, of the 40...credited with the revival of millinery, he has lived in London since...style icon, Isabella Blow. His hats have become part of international...awarded the OBE honour. His hats adorn the heads of many of the...
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