For all of the laughs that Seinfeld gave us over its nine seasons on NBC, there was a great, if underrated, theme of bizarre fashion that delivered some of the show’s funniest moments. The Puffy Shirt ruined the Low-Talker’s career before it became a big hit with some homeless buccaneers. David Puddy took on the man-fur trend before shining a light on the ridiculously wonderful leather 8-ball jacket. Even Sue Ellen Mischke became a trendsetter by turning a classic white bra into a stylish top. But not a single article of clothing – even Morty’s beltless trench coat, The Executive — holds a candle to the good, old Urban Sombrero.
Thanks to some terrible Star Trek-inspired advice from Kramer in season eight’s first episode, “The Foundation,” Elaine believed in herself as the acting publisher of J. Peterman’s catalog. That was obviously a huge mistake. She was a doofus for thinking that she could handle her boss’s duties, and that was more than evident when she unveiled her ridiculous hat. However, even as one man in the episode revealed that he lost his job because of the Urban Sombrero — “I never thought a hat would destroy my life” — someone actually wanted to create and sell this hat in 2016. That someone? The real J. Peterman, with help from John O’Hurley, the actor who played J. Peterman on Seinfeld.
Back in April, Peterman and O’Hurley launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring the Urban Sombrero to life. At the time, we reached out to O’Hurley to find out “Why now?” and “Why, at all?” but he was unfortunately unavailable. (Sad, as we hoped to hear him say, “The horror… the horror” one more time.) Regardless, we were pulling for their campaign to be a success, but it was all for naught. While 720 backers pitched in to make this hat a reality, it fell far short of the $500,000 goal when the campaign expired on May 20. Truly, the horror… the horror.
The way O’Hurley talked about the campaign effort, it sounded like it was simply a chance for Seinfeld fans to own a replica of the show’s history and unlikely anyone would wear this giant hat to work and business casual affairs. “It’s a replica of a really, really good sight gag,” he told the Boston Globe in April, but seeing as O’Hurley actually helped the real J. Peterman bring his company back from the dead in 2001 – it went bankrupt in 1999, not long after Seinfeld aired its final episode — they presumably wanted this to be a big hit and help spur some sales in 2016 by launching additional items. But even now, after the campaign has failed, the question remains: Would anyone actually wear this thing?
For answers we called on the real experts, the men who created the Urban Sombrero in the first place: Seinfeld writers Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer. Just as they helped us get to the bottom of the real story of Festivus, we asked them to tell us why anyone, even the biggest of Seinfeld fans, would ever want to wear something so absurd. For starters, would they wear the Urban Sombrero?
“If they sent me one I would certainly put it on a shelf in my office and display it,” Berg says. “I don’t know if I would wear it in public. I would love to have one.” Schaffer, however, is a little more open to the notion of sporting a giant hat. “I’m not a big hat guy because I still have all my hair,” he laughs. “But I’ll tell you what, I would certainly wear it after a big lunch. I would have no problem tilting that thing down and taking a siesta.”
Neither writer was aware of the real Peterman’s effort to bring the Urban Sombrero to life, which, again, is probably a good indicator of why it failed. In fact, Schaffer was so fond of the idea that he volunteered himself and Berg to write copy for the Kickstarter campaign. And if you’re going to bring this idea to the masses, shouldn’t that have been in the plans all along? Wouldn’t you want the people who wrote this terrible-but-hilarious idea into Elaine’s head in the first place?
The idea came to Berg and Schaffer after Larry David left Seinfeld prior to the eighth season. Schaffer says that he and Berg were sure that David would return until he finally didn’t, and so they had to figure out how to deal with certain aspects of George’s personal life after they killed off Susan, while also finding something fun and new for Elaine. Since they had often written the stories involving Peterman, even when David was running the show, they thought she could be doing something work-related. So, they sent her to Mexico on Peterman’s dime to be a terrible employee who returns with one really bad idea.