Texas Hatters

Bobbie and Willie Nelson both wear hats made by Texas Hatters, in Lockhart, Texas. Paul and Billy English also had them hand make hats for them, too.

For more information about Texas Hatters, to see more pictures of their hats, and famous people wearing their hats — or to buy a hat for yourself, visit their website:


I think you’ll enjoy their history, from their website:

Marvin Gammage, Sr. had quit school to help take care of his family after his father lost an arm in a tragic incident. So, at the young age of 13, he was hired as a delivery boy at a hat company in Houston, Texas. He was a reliable and hard worker, which gained him a place as an apprentice hatter later on.

Despite his eighth grade education, he was a mathematical genius, which led to his other career in the chemical industry as a chemical engineer’s apprentice, or stillman, as I’m told he was called. This career moved him and family a few times and so the hat shop moved also.

Too often a move meant a new name for the shop; Houston Hatters, Pasadena Hatters, Abilene Hatters, Top Hatters and Marvin E. Gammage Hatters. It was in 1965 that he finally settled on Texas Hatters after his son, Marvin Jr., better known as Manny, made the statement, “You’re never gonna move outside of Texas Dad. So, why don’t you just call it Texas Hatters and you’ll never have to change it again.”

Manny had grown up in the hat business, as both of his older sisters, Alice and Sally, and younger brother, Gerry, had done, but for Manny, hat making was a calling not unlike the priesthood for some. He spent as much time as he could at his father’s shop watching and learning from his father and his mother.

Leonora, Manny’s mother, had taken millenary and business classes in college and she was always working with Marvin, usually as the saleswoman and bookkeeper. She loved to talk to the customers. Manny learned, or inherited, her talent with talk, and then some.

After graduating high school, enrolling in the University of Houston and getting a second job at a service station, Manny met Norma at a friend’s house and it was love-at-first-sight. University would have to wait, they were married in November of 1956 and he enlisted in the Armed Forces shortly thereafter.

Eight years of service, one year in Vietnam with the scars to prove it, several years leading his sales office at John Hancock Insurance in Waco and three children later; Manny re-joined his father in the hat business after helping him move it to Austin. Manny settled back into the hat business very quickly. He drew flyers, made copies and posted them at every grocery store, night club and honky-tonk he could get to. He also convinced his parents that Norma would be an excellent help in the business, and he was right. They had to help the business grow to support his family, as well as his mom and dad.

Manny and Norma worked tirelessly, both at the shop and out promoting the hat shop. A few years after helping establish the shop in Austin, they struck a business deal to purchase it from his parents and keep them on as consultants until they were sure of themselves. Within a few short years, they had things well in hand and Marvin and Leonora moved away and let Manny and Norma take full control.

As each of their three children, Glenn, Phyllis and Joella, came of an age they were ready; they were each taught various parts of the business and worked with their parents for a time.

Glenn, a.k.a. Tex, after learning all aspects of the hatter’s trade during and immediately after High School felt an obligation to our nation, and with Manny’s blessing enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1980, were he served with distinction around the world until retiring as a Chief Petty Officer. He is now pursuing his college degree while continuing to work full-time. He has two children, Letitia and Brennan, son-in-law, Chris and grandson, Jonah. He and his wife, Mary, periodically play surprise guest roles at the shop to Norma’s delight.

Phyllis, after first leaving the hat shop to marry in 1985, has since become a registered nurse and mother of five, Samantha, Sean, Steven, Nina and Rebekah. She is also continuing her education in the medical field and has moved up to patient coordinator, among her multiple nursing degrees. She and her husband, Pete, enjoy their hats and promote the hat shop whenever possible.

The baby, Joella, never left for very long, nor went very far. I suppose hat making was her calling too as she worked right up to the birth of all three of her children, Joel, Liliana and Della, and returned not too long after with each one in tow. Since she remained, Joella learned to make a hat from start to finish, even if she was all alone, which happened a time or two over the years. Aside from hat making, bookkeeping and lots of other odd jobs around the shop; Joella has a fair hand at leather work, though she’s still learning.

In 1987, Manny brought in a young man named David A. Torres to learn the trade, and he never left. David fell in love with hat making, and then Joella, at least that’s the order I was told. They began hanging out as friends in 1988, which progressed to dating in the 1990’s, but Joella resisted his proposal of marriage, due to the collapse of her first marriage while her son was just an infant. She finally believed that David was serious about her and hat making, and wasn’t leaving, after Manny passed in 1995.

Since he was practically born in the back room of Texas Hatters, it’s really no surprise that Joel has started the process of apprenticeship. He actually tried creasing his first hat when he was just three. Joel has to put his own flare on things; he bills himself as the ‘dancing salesman’. Most every weekend, and some week nights, finds him at one of Austin’s honky-tonks dancing the leather off of a pair of boots and showing off his variety of self made hats.

Like Manny, Joel promotes Texas Hatters everywhere he goes. He has an energy that is often contagious, and when it isn’t, you wish it was. He has also started hosting live music, once a month, on the back patio of the hat shop. The inaugural event was October 17, 2009 as a sort of a third anniversary of the re-opening in Lockhart. He’s got pictures and videos posted on his page at Facebook.com, listed as Joel Aaron Gammage.

The Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise too high, as Manny would have said, Texas Hatters will continue on for many more generations to come.

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