I bought my Minnetonka buffalo hide Outback hat perhaps eight years ago at Mr. Hyde’s Leather in Canton. It was priced at $45, but the sales clerk reduced the price by 20 percent, making it $36. I was pleased to get a hat made of buffalo for such a low price, but the clerk acted as if I were doing him the favor, and I sensed an unspoken relief on his part to be shed of the hat, perhaps because western hats were out of style and out of place among the store’s urban black leather items. When I got home I noticed dust in the cracks of the braided hat band, confirming my belief that the hat had sat in the store unsold for a long time. Or was my suspicion about the clerk’s barely contained glee over finally clearing out that goofy western hat simply a result of paranoia arising from bucking the fashion grain my entire life?
I bought a second Minnetonka Outback hat a couple years after the first, this one made of light brown suede cowhide. It is soft on the head, offering shade from the sun and protection from the rain, an umbrella that requires no hand to hold. Like the buffalo hat, it includes a braided hatband but no feather, which I added to the buffalo hat to give it an American Indian look, because as long as Indians and whites mixed they shared clothing, and Indians often added beads and feathers to their white man hats to retain a touch of their culture. I sometimes insist that the American buffalo is correctly called a bison, its species name being Bison bison, and I seem to remember having read once that a buffalo is an Asian animal whereas the American bovine is a bison. But the word buffalo is firmly entrenched in our language and conjures images of the American West, Indians, cowboys, and trains halted by massive herds. Finally, it’s interesting to know that bison/buffalo lived in the East too, including Ohio, and many trails followed by humans were first forged by the bison and other big game.
Minnetonka makes the Outback and several other western hats and handbags, but its main focus is moccasins. The company is located in Minneapolis and was founded in 1946, thriving on the postwar tourism boom, weathering changes in fashion, including the fringe fad of the ’60s hippies that gave way to 1980s new wave styles and the recent trend toward black biker and urban leather. I, however, steadfastly stand by my love of brown leather, western hats and indigo jeans and brown fringe Minnetonka moccasins. Historical clothing, like historical buildings, feels right and comforts me, whereas neon colors and concrete buildings make my teeth itch and cause a distinct sense of unease.
I’ve loved historical clothing influenced by the American frontier all my life, and I’ve worn Minnetonka moccasins since the 1980s. I bought a pair of knee-high moccasins in 1984 — they and many of my hats are older than many of my coworkers — and still have those tall moccasins because I rarely wear them. Soft deerskin slipper-style moccasins sheltered my feet for many miles while I explored Ohio canal and Indian sites in 1986 and 1987, and when they finally wore out I consigned them to the Tuscarawas River, along which they had carried me for so many happy hours of historical wandering, the trash can too ignominious an end for such special footwear. I have worn ankle-high Tramper moccasins as daily footwear for many years and have two pairs, one brown and one black. They are not historically correct, but they are immensely comfortable and make thick modern shoes unbearable for more than a few hours. They are not the greatest in modern settings, the soles too thin on hard pavement and slick on wet blacktop, but they conform to my feet in a congenial closeness unmatched by modern footwear and allow me when treading woodland paths to feel every nuance in a trail. That is fine for dry paths but not the most desirable in wet weather — as one writer said long ago, moccasins are just a fancy way of going barefoot. And because I’ve always loved going barefoot, my moccasins serve me well, as do my historical hats, which shelter my head and place me partially in the past, where I belong.
The Minnetonka website is http://minnetonkamoccasin.com/.