Cowboy. Fedora. Panama. Campaign. Baseball. Beret. Sun. Beanie.
No matter what kind of hat you're thinking of, odds are pretty high that I've worn something like it on a recent trip. But when I touched down in Santa Fe last weekend for a girlfriend getaway, I realized I'd forgotten my treasured travel accessory. But with this town's reputation for exuding Southwestern art, culture and style, I had a pretty good feeling that New Mexico was the place to find one.
Alex (right) selected beautiful Santa Fe for her 30th birthday celebration
The downtown Santa Fe Plaza was founded as a Spanish colony in the early 1600s and is now an enclave for Native American artisans and silversmiths, boutique clothiers, fine art galleries, Southwestern eateries and souvenir shops. There are a few millinery shops, but I didn't want to spend $250+ on this relatively last minute purchase. Someone in our group even saw a $10,000 custom creation in one of the millineries! When I'm traveling, I try (really, really hard) to avoid impulsive buys, because over the years I've brought souvenirs home that just aren't realistic for my actual day-to-day life.
Here's an example: I almost purchased a stunning, sky high pair of pumps at Diana in the Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo until I remembered the obvious. Yes, they're lovely little pieces of art but I don't actually wear 5 inch pumps around Santa Monica, even on the dressiest of occasions. Needless to say, those heels stayed in Japan. See what I mean?
Folk Artisans on Galisteo Street had my hat. Run by a woman named Mirtha Santos, her shop is packed from floor to ceiling with a colorful variety of Southwestern goods like clay pottery, embroidered dresses and Navajo style blankets. She also sold hats. Lots of hats.
I found something similar to what I was looking for at Folk Artisans for just $28. Sure, it wasn't a handcrafted bespoke piece, but it would keep the sun off my face for the weekend. The one thing I didn't love about it was the cheap, already fraying plastic hatband. By the end of the trip, I was determined to find a leather replacement.
That's how I met Bear.
Bear worked for two hours building me a custom leather hatband
Bear is a 78-year-old former Western stuntman who was hooked up to oxygen and asleep when I walked into his shop of 30 years, Guns for Hire Leatherworks. No one was around except for an obese pug, who I later learned is called Edward after an actor from Hollywood's Golden Age.
Bear's workshop bears a clear warning to "Please Keep Out"
Bear wasn't happy to be woken up, but begrudgingly said he would make a leather hatband for me. Alongside Bear, I picked out all of the materials, including a black calf leather strap and cord and eight antique, circulated Buffalo nickels (sometimes referred to as Indian Head nickels) from the 1930s. My grandmother introduced me to Southwestern style when I was a little girl after I asked about the metal kokopelli statue in her home office. Throughout my time with Bear, I kept thinking about how much she would just love this experience.
Bear added eight antique circulated Buffalo Nickels to my hatband
Bear was cranky. Bear was curt. Bear really just wanted to get back to his nap. You won't be surprised to learn that Bear has horrible Yelp reviews, but what he lacks in warm conversation, he makes up for in handiwork. A local woman came in for a necklace repair when I was waiting and we discovered she grew up just one mile from my boarding school in Maryland. She said this place mostly attracts locals and I can see why, given the looming "PLEASE KEEP OUT" sign in Bear's workshop that seems like a warning to plucky tourists like me.
But if you're an intrepid traveler, I recommend giving Guns for Hire a shot.
Bear confirms the hatband measurements before attaching the circulated Buffalo nickels.
Bear showed me an photo of himself from the 1970s and told me those were from "his train robbin' days." He and his wife and partner of 40 years, Jane used to choreograph railroad heists to the great delight and sometimes, fear of visiting tourists. I also learned that Bear is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and was a POW during the Vietnam War.
Personally, I think this is all quite a story for just a $58 hat.
After two hours of careful work, Bear charged me a modest $30 in cash. I thanked him and headed over to the Santa Fe Regional Airport to board my flight back to Los Angeles. So, remember. If you find yourself in Santa Fe searching for the perfect hat, you have to go wake up the Bear. Not only will you have an awesome hat for future adventures, but you'll have one heck of a story to share.
Back in Santa Monica and making sure my new hat feels right at home.
Adventure Unabashedly Recommends
Santa Fe Plaza
63 Lincoln Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
6 Chome-9-6 Ginza, Chūō
223 Galisteo Steet
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
Guns for Hire Leatherworks
227 Don Gaspar Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico 8750