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When Trent Johnson bought Greeley Hat Works in 1996 after apprenticing under the company’s previous owner for three-and-a-half years, he vowed to not change a thing—at least as far as the manufacturing process was concerned. “Big companies build 150 dozen a day, but on a good day we’ll build 50 hats,” Johnson says. “Especially on our custom hats, we’ll work one-on-one with the client and go through the process with them.” The use of those tried-and-true methods means a custom hat might take several weeks to make, which Johnson believes makes the experience all the more special. “I call it a collaboration, where we are designing the hat, we are building it, and we do the shaping and can add things or change things,” he says, “but it’s not like pushing a button and a 3D printer spits out a hat.”
But when Johnson took over, he also believed the now 114-year-old company’s handmade hats deserved a bigger piece of the limelight. In addition to the farmers and ranchers who constitute his core clientele, his hats have graced the noggins of Peyton Manning, Lady Gaga, and Miranda Lambert. Those A-list patrons eventually caught the eye of filmmaker Taylor Sheridan, who asked Johnson to design headwear for the cast of his new show Yellowstone, which premiered in June 2018.
Johnson had previously worked with Sheridan to design caps for his 2017 film Wind River, during which the artisan was on set for four days and met star Jeremy Renner. “I don’t care how great the actor is, but most of the time the actor is still taking the hat on and off the way they would do it themselves, rather than how the character would,” Johnson explains. That’s why he spent days with Renner and the rest of the cast, doing painstaking tasks like marking exactly where the hats would be grabbed to be taken off and developing the characters’ relationships with them.
Shortly after, Sheridan sent Johnson the script for Yellowstone’s pilot episode. Johnson approached the job with the same meticulousness he brings to his haberdashery, even spending two weeks with the cast—including Kevin Costner, who plays ranch owner John Dutton—to better understand their personalities. “I literally was part of the cast and crew as I was working closely not just with Taylor [Sheridan], but also [costume designer] Ruth Carter, who helped get into the clothing, look, and the vibe of a cowboy in Montana,” Johnson says. “I was going through hundreds of hats and boots and jeans and jackets that they shipped in from Hollywood and was like, ‘There’s no way anybody would wear this.’ I helped make the looks more contemporary and authentic.” Johnson and his team were also tasked with creating four hats per actor and two per stunt double—and that was all just for one look.
As a result, each hat is a miniature character study. Dutton’s signature 10-gallon, for example, is lighter in color as an ode to old-school Westerns in which the good guys wore white, but Johnson also used a confidential 17-step process to give the cap a worn look that symbolizes Dutton’s willingness to get his hands dirty (like when he killed his maimed horse in the series’ iconic opening scene). Even details like the hat’s brim width, which rings in at four-and-a-quarter inches, were chosen to fit Costner’s frame first and Dutton’s character second.
The last five episodes of the drama were set to debut on Paramount Plus this month but have been delayed until 2024. Fortunately, you can crib the Dutton family’s style while you wait: Greeley Hat Works has been crafting replicas of Yellowstone’s lids since 2020.