ESPN Staff Writer 12/4/15
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Style comes in many forms. For New England Patriots starting wide receiver Brandon LaFell, it often starts with what he puts on his head.
LaFell has become a passionate collector of hats.
So here he is Thursday afternoon, after a long work day at Gillette Stadium, walking into the Patriots’ media workroom with a black bag over his shoulder and 24 hats inside. He has another 15 of the same brand of hats back at his Houston home.
As LaFell pulls out each hat and places them on a table, he starts shuffling them around — some are grouped by team (three Patriots hats side by side front left), while others are given a prominent front-row position based on his hometown (Houston Rockets).
Each brim is straight and made of snakeskin, and the 29-year-old LaFell has a story to tell with each one.
The collection began when his former teammate, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, gifted him a Just Don hat in 2013.
“When he first got it for me — tan, red brim, NBA draft, I was like ‘What is this?’” LaFell relayed. “Then I looked at the internet and was like, ‘He spent $500 on a hat for me?’ I appreciated it, man. Then I fell in love with the brand and the hats, and have been wearing them since.”
Even before that, LaFell and fellow Carolina receiver Steve Smith used to compare hats, as Smith often favored those of his native Los Angeles-based teams.
“He’d be like, ‘My boy from Cali sent this.’ It became a competition between me and Smitty and that’s how I got going,” LaFell said, adding that he has always liked different kinds of hats, and wears them more during the season because there isn’t as much time for haircuts given the demanding schedule for players.
As for how he chooses which hat to wear each day, LaFell explained that it usually is what best matches his wardrobe, especially his shoes. For example, last week he went with a blue and yellow Buffalo Sabres hat because it was the only thing he had to go with his Jordan 5 Laneys.
The week before, it was a Portland Trail Blazers hat, the brim and logo matching his shirt. That caught the Trail Blazers’ attention, as their verified Twitter account retweeted a picture of LaFell that day and sent along the message: “Tell Brandon the check is in the mail.”
One must cut a significant check to purchase the brand of hat LaFell likes, as they retail at $450 each. Part of the cost is based on their exclusivity — the supply is limited — as they are popular among celebrities such as Big Sean, Justin Beiber, Jay Z, Rihanna, Kayne West and Wale, among others.
After last season, former Patriots and current Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was added to that list, because just as Newton once introduced LaFell to hats, LaFell did the same to Revis.
“Reev was heavy on them. That’s all Reev wore last year,” LaFell said. “We swapped out a few hats. The blue Chicago Bulls hat, he got it in, didn’t like the color, and gave it to me. Hooked me up.”
While LaFell’s supply is overflowing, he still laments losing one — an all-black hat with a blue brim and the word “Patriots” in red. “It was pretty hot,” he said, but in the elation of winning the Super Bowl and packing up quickly the next day, he left it behind as the team traveled home after beating the Seattle Seahawks.
LaFell rates his Chicago Bulls hat (black with red brim) as his personal favorite, right there with an all-red Houston Rockets hat. He was a big Michael Jordan/Bulls fan growing up, and as a reminder of where he came from, he said, “I love all my Houston hats.” He has four different Houston hats with him on this day.
At home, LaFell said he hangs the hats carefully in his closet. As his number of hats has grown, he has learned a hard lesson that if he stacked a red-brimmed hat on top of a snakeskin brim of a different color, the red could spread onto the other hat. “It got me a few times,” he said from underneath a Brooklyn Nets 2015 All-Star hat — he likes the “B” and it matches his outfit.
LaFell has noticed that fans often comment on his hats. For example, he once attended a Boston Celtics game wearing a hat of another team, and that led a fan to rescind a request to take a picture with him. Or when he’s out and wearing the hat of a hockey team, sometimes he’ll hear, “You should wear the Bruins!”
“I’m not a particular fan of any teams. That’s why a lot of people will be getting me wrong when I’m wearing hats,” he said. “I just love the colors. I like the hockey hats because the color combination goes with a lot of shoes I wear. Back in Houston, we’re not hockey fans. But up here, everybody is big on hockey, so when I wear certain teams, I get yelled at.”
LaFell is looking forward to receiving two new hats in the near future, the Anaheim Ducks and Boston Bruins.
Of the Ducks hat, he said, “Burgundy with a nice color brim. I just got some Air Jordan 6s, all white with maroon. It will go perfect with them.”
Of the Bruins hat, he said, “It’s black, with a yellow brim, so everybody can get off me!”
Summing up his growing collection of hats, and how he mixes up his choices on a daily basis, LaFell said the uniqueness is something he appreciates.
“You’re not wearing the same hat everyone is wearing. You can do so much with the snakeskin on the brim. It’s a lot of fashion.”