Discover Hats from Around the World at Hatbox: A Modern Haberdashery
Lauri Turner has helped customers find their ideal headwear for over four decades and through multiple locations
By Liz Harroun
Photos by Weston Carls
Lauri Turner didn’t wait long in life before opening her first storefront. While still attending the University of St. Thomas in the 1970s, she opened Vertigo, a store that sold gifts and art in the Montrose District of Houston. After eight years of rapid growth, in 1980 she moved the store to Austin during, in her words, “the heyday of Sixth Street.”
Austin’s notorious Sixth Street was — back in the aughts — clean, vibrant and full of great shopping and restaurants where all of the “yuppies” hung out. Pete’s Piano Bar and Esther’s Follies, the latter being the longest running musical comedy revue in the nation, were two spots she remembers fondly from that time that, to this day, remain Austin staples.
Turner originally started her Austin store on Trinity before quickly moving to Sixth Street as soon as a lease opened up in 1982. She wanted to be in the heart of the city. The store offerings at that time were focused on Austin tourism.
“And then I discovered hats,” Turner says laughing. “I got captured by the mystery of headwear.” She dove headfirst into the history of hats, how all of the styles we know today either came through Ellis Island through immigration or up through Mexico through Spain (the latter influencing the Western headwear so popular in Texas). As her curiosity and fascination with hats grew, so did the inventory of hats in her store. She would seek out hatters, mostly older men who were happy to pass on their knowledge. Before she knew it, locals and tourists were referring to her shop as “the hat store.”
Eventually, as the store became more well-known and even sought after for its hats, Turner changed the name to Hatbox. She continued to hone her skills as a hatter in the Sixth Street location for 19 years before moving locations a couple of blocks west, still on Sixth Street, and then eventually to Congress, right across from the Paramount Theater. Hatbox remained on Congress until March of 2020, when COVID shut them down.
With the rent on Congress unsustainable because of the pandemic shutdown, Turner moved the store into her garage near Barton Springs. Rather than being open to the public for walk-ins, she now takes appointments. Since she only offers 16 time slots each week, many get taken up by her long-standing clientele and celebrities.
Turner seeks out and brings in hats from hatters all around the world. She even accepted a position where she represents the state of Texas within a chamber of commerce between Italy, Canada, Brazil and Texas. Turner, along with the other members, works with 28 old-world artisans to promote and integrate them in their respective countries in order to keep their crafts alive.
While Turner has no plans to open up brick and mortar stores again, the private parties and corporate events have picked back up since COVID. When these opportunities started arising again last year, she had to quickly find and train new “haberdashers,” or hat dealers, which she ended up recruiting from a professional network of Austin comedians. Each one goes through a six-week course where they learn to classically fit hats.
“They make it so much fun,” Turner laughs, as she recalls some recent memories of working with the new comedic haberdashers. “They bring a lot of levity to these events. You get professional comedians to put hats on people, and it’s a party!”
Aside from corporate events, the Kentucky Derby party at the Four Seasons Austin Hotel is another favorite for Turner. “I get to play dress up all day, every day,” Turner says, lighting up as she thinks about her work, which includes helping people choose their custom derby hat amid a bustling party of fashionistas.
Turner’s mission goes beyond simply helping people find the perfect hat. She adopted four families in Ecuador to weave a line of Panama hats, so when you buy a Hatbox Signature Panama Straw Hat, you are helping to support these families’ well-being.
Whether it’s the hottest celebrity or a grandfather looking for a hat to wear to his grandson’s graduation, Turner gets the same joy and satisfaction with each interaction.
“The hat really is utility; it protects the wearer. I take that very seriously. It’s very fulfilling to put a hat on a person.” After 47 years of business, 42 of those being in Austin, Turner continues to evolve to the needs of her community. “If you’re not flexible, you’re history,” Turner says, thinking about what she’s been through these past few years. “I’m excited about the future.”
Each hat comes with a little blessing that it’s worn “in good times, in good health.” After a tough few years for many of us, a new hat is a reminder of the little things that can foster joy and make that special memory just a little more special.