Lester Lanin Hats

You never know what you will discover. At Play Something Good, we share a love for thrifting, searching flea markets, and looking for treasures all over. It comes from our years of searching out records, but we love finding clothes, art, books, housewares, vintage stereo equipment, and musical instruments. We have learned a lot from what we have found over the years. Recently we were at an old consignment store in Philadelphia that was closing after 57 years in business. Abby has been finding amazing things there since she was a teenager. For years she noticed an interesting little hat that had always been perched on the head of a stuffed monkey in the window display. (a stuffed animal that is, not a real monkey) We both tried to tempt the staff to sell it to us, but we were always met with a– “that’s not for sale.” This particular day, the store announced it’s closing so Tom gave a final attempt at getting the hat. What do you know? Five Dollars!

The hat was really cool- it was a skipper hat shape, it looked older and had the  name “Lester Lanin” hand painted in script on the brim. There was something intriguing about it. Who was Lester Lanin? About a month later, in another city, at another thrift store, we came across another Lester Lanin hat! This one had a different shape but the same signature script writing right there on the brim. We had to know who he was, and so, upon further inquiry we found out that Lester Lanin was once a very famous bandleader and a great New York success story.

He began his career in the roaring 1920’s playing at cotillions and homes of the wealthy in New York and Philadelphia. He continued to become a hard working, successful and famous society band leader with recurring gigs at the inaugurations of Presidents Eisenhower thru Carter! He kept up, always embracing and learning new music from his start in the 1920’s through the 1990’s! What a vast repertoire!

From his obituary in the New York Times:

by 1992 had played 20,000 wedding receptions, 7,500 parties and 4,500 proms. He supplied danceable happiness to several generations of the richest and most beautiful people on earth, at events ranging from Queen Elizabeth’s 60th birthday party to the wedding of Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel to the private parties of the DuPonts, Chryslers and Mellons. He made music for Grace Kelly’s engagement party, and at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. He wrote “My Lady Love” in honor of their marriage.”

His trademark was his hats, which would be given away, tossed into crowds toward the end of parties, emblazoned with his name in signature script. They were a sought after souvenir and status symbol. At the time of his death in 2004 at age 97 it was estimated that 50,000 hats were given away over his long and impressive career. We loved learning about him by sheer coincidence through finding these hats. It’s inspiring to hear him interviewed about his life and work as he seemed to embody the spirit of what it means to rock a party. Be tight, entertain people and have fun:

‘Whoever you play for, try and make sure you were part and parcel of something happy, so if the woman whose party it was sees you on the street 15 years from now,
she’ll say, ‘Lester, you made my party.’ ”- Lester Lanin