SEABISCUIT - The Art of Hat Illusion



Part of the hat makers skill, especially in period films,seab is to work with the motion picture production company in creating a “sense of illusion” when it comes to what we see on the screen. These days especially, when budgets are tight, and watched over for every penny, it’s important to help the filmmakers create a sense of period without putting them into their own “depression”! A great case in point of this art of “Hat illusion” is Baron Hats work on the critically acclaimed motion picture “Seabiscuit”.

The film takes place in an era when no man (or woman) would be caught dead outdoors without a hat. Whether it be a cap, a fedora or a boater, it was unheard of, for every class and occupation not to have some kind of head cover. This was especially prevalent when people of that era went to special events. These were the days when men wore not only hats, but suits and ties to the movies, to ball games, and in this case, to horse races!

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PHOTO CREDITS: Photo by Francois Duhamel. - © 2005 Universal Pictures and DreamWorks LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

For the filmmaker, hell bent on creating an extremely authentic feel of “period” as was the case on “SEABISCUIT”, this meant that literally thousands of “heads” needed to be covered, especially in the large race track crowd scenes. An extremely important plot point to the story was how the underdog (or is that underhorse?)

Seabiscuit became a “symbol” for the working class in this country, who say in this horses checkered history, a story of struggle and survival, of coming from the deepest despair, and coming out a winner.

Because of that, the attendance at races in which Seabiscuit was racing were always sold out, literally overflowing with humanity wanting to catch a glimpse of this rising star they called their own. Obviously it would be cost prohibitive for the filmmakers to order fully realized hats for all these extras (many of whom were actually dummies with masks, who never the less, also needed hats on their heads!). So, in these cases, a “three tiered” approach is created to make such an undertaking both visibly faithful and financial feasible.


details“Hero Hats” (“Hero” being a movie production term used in all departments for the main actor) are the hats worn by the main characters in the film. Since they are used not only for costume, but for props, and even story points, and are photographed at extreme close-up to be shown on giant theater screens, it is imperative that they be as authentic in every detail as possible! They are made with the same care, if not more, than commercially available hats.

Great attention is made to every detail of theseseab hats, many times actual period materials are used, or special companies are searched for literally around the world to find such materials, or to find a factory that can reproduce them exactly… and an enormous amount of additional research goes into making sure they are exactly created to the specifications of the originals. In the case of “SEABISCUIT”, this had an extra layer of detail added, since the characters in the story were based on actually people, and there were many photographs and newsreels of them taken in their day where very specific style hats.

These hats are also custom made for the specific actor,haunted and both hyper-scrupulous measurements of ever aspect of their head are taken, along with molds of their heads. In most cases full head busts are cast or at least wood “blocks” are created from these molds so that the hats can be shaped to the very exacting dimensions of the actors without them having to be there.

Even so, the actors come in for as many fittings as needed until both the hat maker, the costumer, the director and producers, and the actor themselves are totally satisfied with the results. In most cases at least a dozen of these hats are made since they must always look “fresh”, and tend to go through a lot of abuse during filming and must be replaced! We are offering custom to-order made Fedora’s made with the same materials as those created for the motion pictures.

We are offering two styles: the “The Entrepreneur”, a reproduction of the beautiful gray fedora that Academy Award™ nominated actor Jeff Bridges wore in the film as the character of “Charles Howard”, and the “The Trainer”, a reproduction of the brown fedora that Academy Award™ winning actor Chris Cooper wore in the film as the character of “Tom Smith”.




seabThe second level of hats is a little tricky. You have to find the find balance between being functional, “play” on the screen, be sturdy enough to withstand the “abuse” of “walk-ons” and “bit players”, and be affordable enough for the production company to order them in the hundreds, if not thousands. In the case of “SEABISCUIT”, this became a challenge, since again, you were dealing with a film that portrays an era where virtually everyone wore hats, especially fedora’s, like the one’s the main character’s wore. There were countless shots of newsmen crowding into a scene to talk to Charles Howard character, and of course to see the horse himself (it’s stated in the film that during Seabiscuit’s reign, papers would but any news about Seabiscuit at the very top, with Hitler and FDR running a very far down second and third priority!) These hats also show up in close work (see photo above), and must keep a their shape. They too had to have detail’s such as attaching individual grosgrain ribbon hat bands to each hat.

Baron Hats solved the problem by finding and extremely lightweight fabric that could be quickly shaped into the Fedora style, making special “dyes” to cast them. There was also an ingenious stitching in the inside so that the hats would fit all sizes and form to the heads of the hundreds of actors who would be wearing them.

Two colors were specially created for these hats,seabus an “Earth” brown and “slate gray”, so that by simply adjusting of lights, both natural and electric, the specific neutralization of colors in the hats would take on subtle changes, so that the hats would seem to be more varied, both in color and age (remember that hats change color with age and natural exposure to the sun, along with normal wear-and-tear). The worse “look” a hat maker wants for his mutable hats is that they all look like they were made at the same time!

In a rare agreement with the production company, Baron Hats has obtained a limited quantity of the actual “stunt” hats used in the production of “SEABISCUIT”. Each hat, in perfect condition bares a label of authenticity in the inside hatband. Each order contains two hats, one natural brown the other gray, or you can order a full “production” of 24 hats at amazing prices! Check out the SEABISCUIT Stunt Hat Offer!


seaOnce you’ve mastered your “Hero” hats, and your “Stunt” hats, there is the overwhelming challenge of creating hats for the countless thousands of extra’s or “Atmosphere” as they are called. Again, in a movie like “SEABISCUIT” where so much of the story takes place on racing tracks, and where the outpouring of love for “Seabiscuit” by the “common folk” was so sweeping that his every appearance was met with overflowing crowds of humanity, you are faced with “dressing” a whole lot of heads!

Many productions (most notably the ‘Lord of the Rings” cycle) are using computer generated effects to create large crowds, but for both budgetary, logistic and esthetic concerns, the makers of “SEABISCUIT” wanted to use as many “live bodies” in the crowds as possible.

For the very top “cheap seats” in the stands, they did, however actually use hundreds of dummies, but they too needed hats… so it helped in the “extra” budge (you don’t have to feed dummies!), Baron Hats was still required to make hats for everything, alive or stuffed! And again, since many of the extra’s would be seen in detail (since the crowds themselves were one of the main emotional plot points in the story), the hats had to be both mass produced, sturdy, photograph well, and yet be made very economically, since thousands had to be reproduced. And to add to the mix, since the straw “boater” hat was also an extremely popular style of hat in those times, they also had to find a way to reproduce them as well! And as is always the case in most motion picture productions… the hats were needed immediately to be flown to locations!

Again, Baron Hat owner and master hat maker Mark Mejiagray hat came up with a special process of creating the fedora hats in molded velour, with a “felt looking” finish, which he could make quickly. He created a similar process for the straw boaters. Again, the quality of the hats were so excellent that in many cases these “atmosphere” hats were used in many close-up sequences, much to the pride of Mark and his craftsmen back at his Burbank, California studios.

As with the “Stunt” hats, a limited quantity of both the “Atmosphere” fedora (both in brown and gray), and the straw hat-style “boater” are available for purchase. These especially are terrific for promotional giveaways, as corporate gifts, to be used in various productions, and even for grand scale parties, reunions, company picnics or any other occasion where you’d like to use a fedora’s and boaters, especially those with a special film maker history at an extremely affordable price! As with the “Stunt” hats, every one of these hats contain a label of authenticity stating that they were used in the filming of “SEABISCUIT”!