In 2002, with his first paycheck from a job serving popcorn at a Tinseltown multiplex, fifteen-year-old Orlando Ordaz bought his first Houston Astros fitted hat. It was a black cap with a brick-red star, stylized with one side broken open—the team’s main logo from 2000 to 2012. An East Houston native, Ordaz had almost no choice but to fall in love with the Astros. His mother worked in catering at the old AstroWorld amusement park, and because the family shared a single car, Ordaz and his father would pick her up most days. After scooping her, Ordaz’s dad would occasionally take the whole clan next door to the Astrodome and buy $1 mezzanine tickets for that day’s game.

Back then, the Astros were a National League team with limited success and not a single pennant to fly from the club’s decades-long history. Today, the American League Astros have made six consecutive trips to the League Championship Series and have played in four World Series (including their current tilt with the Philadelphia Phillies) in those years, winning it all in 2017. 

Meanwhile, Astros custom-fitted hats have become collector’s items, thanks to the rise of streetwear fashion trends, a few famous personalities like Travis Scott, and the team’s success. As with sneaker drops or the latest gaming console, fitted hat collectors line up for hours and sometimes days to secure exclusive new designs. Hats generally range from $50 to $70 retail, but Astros caps often resell for $250 on the secondary market, and the rarest editions have gone for more than $400. 

But for Ordaz, it was never about the hype. He loved baseball and loved cheering for the Astros, and that passion led to collecting New Era fitteds. He made sure to pick up limited-edition caps, such as the on-field hats produced for the now-defunct annual MLB Civil Rights Game in 2014, which was hosted at Minute Maid Park. Ordaz also scooped up the hat José Altuve wore during the Japan All-Star Series in November of that year. Both are adorned with commemorative side patches. 

“A certain hat will be like a time machine to that era,” says Ordaz, who’s now 35 and works as an electrician for the Galena Park school district. “I see that 2017 patch, and it gives me the joy of winning a championship.” Similarly, headwear in navy and gold recalls his childhood going to the Astrodome, and the brick-red star reminds him of seasons the team spent languishing at the bottom of the division.

Custom Astros Fitted Caps
Orlando Ordaz with his hat collection.Jamaica Negrete

Twenty years after purchasing his first fitted, Ordaz estimates he owns at least two thousand hats. He doesn’t know the exact number, and he doesn’t want to, he says, because he doesn’t want the total to fall short of his expectations—and, more importantly, he doesn’t want to think about exactly how much money he’s spent on his collection. (The total is surely in the tens of thousands of dollars.) He and a few other friends even started a group they call the Houston Hat Crew, which meets each month to talk baseball and the members’ latest headwear acquisitions. 

As the popularity of fitted hats has grown, with New Era offering ever more styles and partnering with designers and retailers to come up with custom colorways, the scene has welcomed newer collectors like Manny Isidro, a 43-year-old pharmacist from Houston. Isidro’s been an Astros fan for decades, but he didn’t fall hard into collecting baseball caps until 2020. Since then, he’s amassed about 1,600 hats, a collection he says probably cost around $80,000. “I was into shoes already,” he says. “One of my coworkers got me hooked on Astros fitteds, different colors and themes and patches I never knew existed. Even if it’s the same type of hat with one thing changed, like the visor, I like to collect them all.”

In recent years, both Ordaz and Isidro have noticed hat-collector culture shifting to favor fashion over fandom. New Era caps as couture items have a long history—perhaps most notably, the one-of-a-kind red Yankees hat that Spike Lee wore to the 1996 World Series. Houston headwear has received similar celebrity boosts. At his 2005 charity softball game, NBA legend Allen Iverson wore a custom green Astros cap and matching throwback jersey. Rapper Travis Scott released a series of stylized Astros fitteds in 2019 to coincide with a run of tour dates. Bun B, half of the iconic Houston rap duo UGK, has collaborated with the Astros to release several custom designs, one of which retailed for $713. Some of the most coveted caps have paid homage to Houston history, such as the style that borrowed the color scheme from the album cover for UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty, or another in the colors of the Houston Oilers.

Hat Club, a retail chain with locations in New York, California, and Arizona, has been a haven for collectors since its founding in 1992. Ordaz has been shopping at their online store since 2008, when he first bought a simple navy cap (now called a “plain Jane”) with the Astros’ script logo. For years, the community consisted mostly of die-hard collectors like him, but there have been several key turning points in the pastime’s recent growth. 

Benjamin Christensen, Hat Club’s social engagement manager, remembers customers starting to favor fitteds with commemorative embroidery related to World Series appearances, All-Star Games, and team anniversaries around 2018. The next evolution came the following year, when Hat Club worked with New York rapper Frosty Preme to design a Yankees cap with a pink under-visor to honor the rapper’s mother, who had died of breast cancer. The concept was a hit, and soon hats with unconventional under-bills were flying off the shelves. This explosion in interest rose alongside the popularity of sneaker culture, and hat designers began to create headwear in colorways that perfectly matched specific shoes, particularly those from Travis Scott’s Nike line

Justin Farnham, a hat designer and former manager of Hat Club’s Manhattan storefront, is credited with a bit of marketing magic that took sales to a new level. “Justin was the one who really saw that it’s one thing to use a color scheme, but it’s another thing to give it a name, give it a story line, and people connect to it,” says Christensen. Those innovations included collections like the campfire series, with every MLB team boasting a burnt orange colorway; the sandstorm collection, consisting of tan caps with desert-pink and turquoise accents; and the Diamond Crossover series, which saw MLB hats produced in the colors of the corresponding basketball franchises from the teams’ home cities.

While fitteds in general have seen a boom in popularity—Christensen says Hat Club increased production from dozens of caps to thousands to meet demand for certain colorways—Houston has developed into a hotbed for collectors, served by local shops like Proper, Eight One, and Bigg City Cap Zone. Of the cities where Hat Club doesn’t operate any storefronts, Houston is neck and neck with Los Angeles as the company’s biggest market. Online, Astros hats often have more stock and sell out faster than caps of any other team, usually within a matter of seconds.

Christensen attributes the strength in the Houston market to loyal fans and the franchise’s success over the past six seasons. Earlier this year, Hat Club staged a one-day pop-up event at a downtown Houston brewery, and more than one thousand people showed up, some arriving twelve hours early for a chance to buy rare designs. 

https://twitter.com/hatclub/status/1528847610194169856?lang=en

The success of that event brought Hat Club back earlier this month for a second pop-up. This time, it debuted nine new styles of Astros fitteds based on Blue Bell Ice Cream flavors—a nod to another homegrown Texas favorite. The concept, dubbed Sundae Service, was developed by Rudy Torres, a member of Houston Hat Crew. “It lets us know we’re part of this,” Ordaz says. “They’re not just taking our money and saying, ‘Here’s a product.’ They’re making us feel like a part of the community.”

At this pop-up, held the weekend before the Astros began this year’s postseason run, Houston saw yet another enormous congregation of hat collectors, from “old heads” like Ordaz to newer collectors to resellers waiting hours just to flip the $50 caps for three or four times the retail price. Once again, patrons waited overnight for a chance to purchase caps, and even latecomers who missed the sale walked away with free scoops of Blue Bell. Paul Wall even turned up to buy a hat. 

Ordaz marveled at how the scene had grown. He thought of all the times friends had cracked jokes about his headwear obsession—“You got so many hats but you got one head,” they’d say. Now other aficionados come to him for advice and treat his collection with awe. He doesn’t care if a collector has been at it for two decades or two weeks, and he doesn’t even mind the resellers. He’s just happy that fitted hats are having their moment and reaching an ever-growing swath of devotees. 

“Now,” he says, “there’s people like me.”