Rad Hatters

An interview with Brad Tilden, owner of Rand's Custom Hats

“You dream it up; we can build it.”

These are dangerous words for any craftsperson to speak, but Brad Tilden stands behind his guarantee. As owner of Rand’s Custom Hats, he’s faced more than his fair share of challenging requests, but the phrase “We can’t do that” doesn’t exist in a Rand’s hatmaker’s vocabulary.

“We get all kinds of requests,” Brad says. “Some customers will say, ‘Hey, I was watching this movie, and in this scene this guy was wearing this hat.’ We’ll go back through the movie, and we’ll find the scene. Then we’ll figure out the hat crease style and size, and we’ll replicate it for the customer. At one show, a lady came up to our trailer with this other lady and said, ‘Here, I want a hat like hers.’ She’d seen her in the stands, grabbed her, and dragged her over. No matter what you want, we can figure out how to do it.”

The success of shows like Yellowstone and the increasing national fascination with Big Sky Country and cowboy culture has proven fruitful for business. Brad says, “We get the call quite frequently: ‘I want to look like Kevin Costner or whoever.’ So the last couple years have been amazing. I think hats are coming back. Back in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, every businessman wore a hat to work. I don’t know if it’ll get to that point again, but there’s definitely more and more people buying hats and wearing them.”

Brad and his wife, Leanne, bought Rand’s in 2020, leaving behind their California citrus farm to take the reins of the family-owned business. Longtime staff members, some of whom have worked at Rand’s upwards of thirty years, made the transition as easy as possible, teaching the new owners the tricks of the trade and welcoming them into the family. “We haven’t changed a thing, nor do we plan to,” Brad says. “We’re going to stick to the old-fashioned way of building hats from scratch and using the finest materials for fit and finish.”

The sheer scale of customization options is beautiful to behold, lining nearly every wall in the shop. Brad estimates that over 300 hat prototypes occupy the shelves, and his crew stays constantly busy creating more. “We have a silversmith who makes buckles,” Brad says. “You can do your initials, add your logo. Whatever you want, in any size. We offer braiding on the rim, beadwork, you name it. For ranchers, businessmen—anything you could want from a fedora to a cowboy hat, we build ‘em all.” Some shop highlights include a replica of Clint Eastwood’s hat from his 2021 film, Cry Macho and a model of the Rand’s hat Tom Selleck wore in the 1990 western, Quigley Down Under. Most recently, Rand’s crafted a hat for Tim McGraw. The country singer proudly displays his purchase on last December’s People magazine cover.

At Rand’s, buying a hat isn’t just a transaction—it’s an experience. “We’re always here in the shop,” Brad says. “When customers visit in person, they can see us building the hats. They can watch the process, from the raw body all the way to the finished product.” Of course, just because you can watch the full process doesn’t mean you should—the hatmakers’ devotion to quality means each hat can take from a couple days to a couple weeks to complete, depending on supply chain issues. Still, it’s fascinating to view any stage of the journey, from the humble beaver-skin beginning to the elegant end product.

Who are we kidding, though? You didn’t come to Rand’s just to tour. Your own custom hat process begins with head measurements, which a hatmaker will take using an old-school wooden device called a conformateur. Using those measurements, the hatmaker will “block” your hat by steaming a beaver-skin template over a wooden dome that essentially serves as a model of your head. Brad says, “We’ll shape, crease, and hand-sand the hat to whatever finish you’ve chosen, and then we’ll add whatever trimming you like” The options are near endless. Brad’s hat, for instance, features a binding on the edge, a hand-braided Vince Donley hatband, and a cattleman’s crease, with a four-inch brim.

For customers who aren’t lucky enough to live near Billings, Rand’s offers a convenient online shop at IWannaHat.com. The team also attends rodeos and conventions from Nashville to Vegas, rolling into town with a trailer and all their fitting materials in tow. “Still, it’s best to just come in and see our shop,” Brad says. “See the amount of prototypes on the walls. Visit with us and build a relationship so we know what you’re looking for.”

On your next downtown outing this fall, consider dropping by Rand’s Custom Hats. A tour of Brad and Leanne Tilden’s remarkable business is enough to transform even the most skeptical city-slicker into something of a cowboy convert.

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