You want a hat in Milwaukee? Trent Towers has you covered at his Burleigh Street store.

To walk into Trent Towers’ namesake store on West Burleigh Street is to walk out knowing everything there is to know about hats — from brand names to fabric blends to styles.

“This is a fedora. You see it’s got the pinch in the front, but it’s wide,” explains Towers, owner of Trent Towers’ Hats & Caps, 7143 W. Burleigh St. “A teardrop is pointed. That’s a pork pie. It’s flat at the top. This is a center dent. It has no pinch in the front. … And these are called stingy brims because the brims are not wide.

“They’re all different styles and names.”

Towers’ knowledge of all things hats comes from years of not only being an aficionado of the headwear, but owning one of a few remaining stores specializing in designer hats and caps in the Milwaukee area.

In business for nearly 14 years, Towers, 63, credits his success to three things — selling high-quality products, providing good customer service and running a classy shop — something he said people can’t get online or even in some department stores.

Milwaukee wants Kangol, Dobbs and Stetson

“In order to stay open, you have to have what people want … and Milwaukee wants Kangol, Dobbs and Stetson,” Towers said. “If you got those brands in your store, then your sign will stay open. But you got to have something for (people) to choose from as well.”

Towers’ Enderis Park neighborhood shop is filled with display cases and ceiling-high shelves stocked with name-brand headwear — from Stetson, Dobbs, Bailey and Biltmore to more exotic names like Bruno Capelo and Borsalino — to match any style and occasion.

His cap selection — and there’s a difference between a cap and hat, Towers said — includes urban headwear from Kangol, made famous by hip hop artist LL Cool J, to newsboys, Big Apple caps and eight-quarter caps.

Caps, Towers said, are usually flat and don’t have brims, a difference a lot of people don’t know.

When Towers opened his shop, he wanted to do something different. Milwaukee already had plenty of men’s clothing stores. But, after prodding from a customer, he stepped out on a limb to sell only hats.

“I didn’t want to do what everybody else was doing,” Towers said. “I knew there’s a lot of preachers, deacons and doctors and all kinds of people who wanted to go somewhere and buy a quality hat.”

Now his clientele runs the gamut — all races and professions, with an occasional star or two. Towers has supplied headwear to Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, founding member of hip-hop group Run-DMC; Rodney Poe, of the 90s R&B group BLACKstreet; and former WISN 12 News journalist Mike Anderson.

“I dress a lot of people,” Towers said, smiling.

Owners of Trent Towers' Hats & Caps (Left) Laurie and (right) Trent Towers pose for a photo

Fashion sense for headwear came from Chicago’s steppin’ scene 

Towers owes his retail savvy to his mother, who owned a boutique, Pearl’s Fashion, on Chicago’s far south side. But his fashion sense for headwear came from observing sharply dressed men in Chicago’s steppin’ scene.

“In Chicago, everybody dressed. They dress to impress,” said Towers, who moved to Milwaukee in 1986.

“So, when you go out to a steppin’ club, they were still dressed like young men, with their pants up, suits on,” he said. “I got a chance to grow up seeing people wearing hats going to the clubs.”

In the Chicago steppin’ scene, Towers said most men sported Dobbs or Stetson fedoras.

When Towers moved to Milwaukee, he vended at local events for a while until he decided to open a brick-and-mortar shop. In 2010, Towers opened his eponymous store, selling men’s suits and accessories, including a limited selection of hats. But customers coming into his shop always complimented the hat section.

“That’s when I went strictly all hats,” Towers said.

That was a year later.

Laurie and Trent Towers opened Trent Towers' Hats & Caps in 2013 and sell hundreds of different hats.

It’s the personal touch that sets Towers apart

Success came from furnishing hats not only in brand, style and color, but also in fabric from felt, straw to fur and wood blends. Towers takes time to make sure the fit and the style are right. Unlike on the internet, he said, customers can touch, see and try on the product.

“All hats don’t fit the same,” Towers said. “We are going to make sure that everything fits you before you leave.”

After all, it’s the hat that makes the person.

“It’s got to look good to that person who is trying it on,” Towers said. “When you put a hat on, folks will come to you and say, ‘You rockin’ that hat.’”

Towers’ wife, Laurie, agreed. She echoed an adage Towers’ grandmother always told him.

“When you have a hat on your head, that makes you a fine dressed man,” said Laurie Towers, who along with her husbands are both Dobbs fans.

Hat’s off to the ladies, too

But hats aren’t just for men. Women can wear them, too — from a fedora to a Panama hat. It’s all about the wearer’s personality.

“Your personality is what makes the hat,” Laurie Towers said. “I think sometimes, when we put on something that we like, we become more comfortable, more confident.”

And the time is right for women to weave feminine and masculine styles into their wardrobe.

“We live in a gender-neutral society,” Laurie Towers said, “so it’s all about what fits you.”

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