Hats off to The Brass Rooster and Hen House: Milwaukee’s premiere “hat-erdashery”

The Brass Rooster and The Hen House

By Michael Mackie

Want to turn some heads … with what’s on your head? May we suggest a visit to the Brass Rooster – an awe-inspiring, old school men’s hat shop smack-dab in the heart of Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

Not only does the store (and sister shop The Hen House) hand-craft over 400 customized jaunty chapeaus each year, the two owners Kate and John McLaughlin are only two of fifteen Master Dress Hatters in the country. The team at this “hat-erdashery” is ambitiously determined to make you look your very best … even if you’re a skeptic. “There is a hat for everybody,” said John McLaughlin. “Any guy can wear a hat – as long as it’s fit properly for your frame and face. There has not been one person I haven’t been able to find a hat for.” 

Hats galore at The Brass Rooster

Hats galore at The Brass Rooster

Putting the finishing touches on a custom-made chapeau.

When MyFavePlaces asked if a baseball cap counts … well, cue the record scratch. No – a hat from The Brass Rooster harkens from a nostalgic -- albeit not bygone -- era where class and style reigned supreme. From bowlers to fedoras to pork pies, the array of headgear for sale is impressive – with both Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow being fans of the Rooster’s own customized lines.

Can’t tell one hat from another or which one might work to cover your cranium? No worries … neither could we. You’ll find a hyper-knowledgeable sales staff ready and willing to assist you. And – even better? There’s not a single dunce cap to be found. “People find a new confidence when they wear our hats,” said Kate McLaughlin. “We find things that are appropriate and make them look their best.”

Kate McLaughlin co-owner of The Brass Rooster and Hen House.

The McLaughlins are quick to point out you could spend any amount on their hats … “as high as you want to go,” said John McLaughlin. But most are very reasonable. “No New York, LA or London prices here,” said McLaughlin. Not surprisingly, women will spend less, but buy more hats. Men, meanwhile, are undaunted by higher price points in order to find one rockin’ customized melon topper. (Bonus -- 85% of the material and fabric of the customized men’s hats are made in America and you can easily shop online, but we’d suggest a visit to their storefront.)

Ladies hats

Ladies hats

The shop opened up to fanfare in 2011 in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood and recently expanded to its new location a few years ago – which is where Kate McLaughlin unleashed her line of women’s head wear. Want to see and be seen? British-esque fascinators dot the Hen House’s interior landscape. There are hats big enough to shield you from paparazzi at the Kentucky Derby or to be spotted from the moon. “A hat is the last thing you put on, but the first thing people see,” said McLaughlin with a smile. “Hats should come with warnings … they’re a people magnet. People will just chat you up or compliment you.”

Okay -- it's not a raspberry beret, but it is an exact replica of Prince's hat from his classic "Purple Rain" video.

Okay -- it's not a raspberry beret, but it is an exact replica of Prince's hat from his classic "Purple Rain" video.

“It can be a bit overwhelming – so many hats, so little time,” said first time customer Mark Werner. “But John sized me up and we discussed my style. I’m not a ‘hat guy’, but he found something for me in no time flat … or flat-brimmed, whichever.”

God forbid someone has a hat emergency – but the shop also does a bang-up job of refurb, rehab and repair on site. Some of their hat making equipment and tools date back to 1893. Want to repurpose a vintage hat you stumbled across in grandpa’s closet? The Brass Rooster can get you cleaned up and spiffed up – although don’t be surprised if those old-school hats don’t fit as well. The average hat size has grown exponentially since the 50’s and 60’s. Yep – it’s true … American heads are growing not unlike our waistlines.  

Hipsters and hat aficionados may like to shop, but looky-loos find it equally as fun just to come in and snoop around – as the shop is practically a working hat museum come to life. “There is always time for a quick tour to talk about our craft,” said John McLaughlin. “Even the things that aren't for sale have a price. We are very serious about preserving our craft and tools of the trade. Our house doesn't look too different from our shop.”

Mirror mirror...

Whether it’s classic, contemporary or something customized – the Brass Rooster and The Hen House makes picking out the perfect hat effortless. “People want unique and different, but not a costume. It needs to be an extension of them,” said Kate McLaughlin. “You put on a hat and you become the ‘cock of the walk’. Your shoulders go back, your chin goes up, your gait changes.”

Our suggestion? Learn to be a hatter … not a hater. 


The Brass Rooster Hat Company and Hen House

2252 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207

Open Tuesday - Saturday 11am – 6pm

Phone: (414) 988-5222; www.brassrooster.com and www.henhousehats.com (online order available)


Other nearby Fave Places:

1. Halo Soap

2227 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207

This bath shop creates handmade soap and body products – including beer soap. (Natch!) It’s just a hops-skip-and-jump from Brass Roster. Try Halo’s in-house body butter and body lotions – not to mention over a dozen scents of bath bombs. Be warned – you can smell the fragrances from down the block. It will entice you in.

Halo Soap rose bath bombs

2. Drink Wisconsibly Pub

135 E National Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53204

The sign at the entrance says: “Any person requesting an Appletini or Bud Light will be asked to leave the premises.” That pretty much sums up the kitschy mentality of this local bar. What Cheers is to Boston … the Drink Wisconsibly Pub is to Milwaukee. If you do nothing else, get the cheese curds. Three words: to die for.


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