Rodger Chieffalo Spins Hobby Into Hat Trick

The real estate developer and environmental entrepreneur enters the vintage fashion world.

Rodger Chieffalo's career journey has landed him at Chieffalo Americana, where vintage cowboy hats get a new life. Photo by Jill Johnson

Rodger Chieffalo Spins Hobby Into Hat Trick

The real estate developer and environmental entrepreneur enters the vintage fashion world.

For his third act, Rodger Chieffalo ’80 found a way to make work a lot of fun. At Chieffalo Americana, the boutique he opened in Fort Worth with his wife, Jackie Chieffalo, in late 2020, he did what most people only dream about: He turned a hobby into a business.

Chieffalo began finding and restoring vintage Western hats almost 20 years ago, a personal pastime he wedged into a schedule packed with his commercial real estate development and brokerage career. Today his Chieffalo Americana hats are hot commodities; wearers include TCU Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. and tennis coach David Roditi ’96, as well as musicians Leon Bridges and Joe Ely.

As Chieffalo continued his real estate work, he and Jackie worked overtime building their Western accessories shop into a destination for those seeking a retro cowboy look. He said his good fortune has everything to do with choosing to be a Horned Frog.

From College Onward

Landing in Fort Worth from Wayne, Pennsylvania, Chieffalo came to TCU on a combination athletic-academic scholarship. He swam and in his junior year he joined Neeley School of Business.

“I began TCU as a typical student-athlete, very focused on classes and making good grades, my sport, training and competing,” he said. “By the time I left, I was more focused on people, relationships, career and lifestyle — though the academics were always intense. I think I grew into the adult I would be while I was still in school.”

“The relationships developed at TCU continue to fuel my business. … The more people I talk to, the more I see that our adult success stems from our friendships begun at TCU.”
Rodger Chieffalo '80, owner of Chieffalo Americana

After working for more than a decade in Fort Worth real estate, Chieffalo fell back on his interest in science, launching an environmental business in Alabama and Florida. His company turned garbage into ethanol, establishing numerous U.S. and international patents in the process.

“That began a pattern of finding the worth in turning things of low value into those of high value,” he said. “That was a predictor of more things to come.”

Selling his stake in the business, Chieffalo returned to Fort Worth and the real estate world, where he indulged a passion for buying, renovating and repurposing or marketing old buildings. Most recently, he and partners bought and renovated Roy Pope Grocery and Paris Coffee Shop in Fort Worth.

Chieffalo kept watching the growing trend toward vintage clothing and accessories and the public’s interest in regionalism and American-made products.

In 2005, he was willed a filthy, weathered Stetson. He recognized the old hat’s value — it was a famous style called the Amon Carter Shady Oak, named for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram publisher who gave the hats to dignitaries from around the world during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Chieffalo turned to Peters Bros. Hats in downtown Fort Worth, a generations-old shop that produced hats for Carter, for help.

“They made it perfect again, and soon I got the idea to give these to clients and investors as thank-you gifts,” Chieffalo said. “I found 10 old hats right away to be restored. At hat number 40, I thought I could make this a side business. But I probably gave away 200 or more hats until I felt like I was really building a brand.”

Scouring antique shops and estate sales for vintage Stetson and Resistol cowboy hats, Chieffalo sold them as quickly as he could get them restored. One friend who taught yoga workshops all over the country posted photos of herself on social media in her Chieffalo hat, spurring requests from around the U.S.

After his restoration expert at Peters Bros. died, Chieffalo found an eager partner in Capital Hatters in Stephenville, Texas, which has now restored more than 1,600 hats for him.

As business escalated, an editor for Vogue encouraged Chieffalo to expand to restore Western belt buckles and create custom cuff links. He found local craftspeople to make cuff links out of 1930s clip-on earrings and brass bullet casings, among other materials, marketing everything on Instagram.

Jackie Chieffalo met future husband Rodger through social media and after four years of dating made the move to Fort Worth, where they opened Chieffalo Americana. Photo by Jill Johnson

Business Meets Pleasure

Chieffalo used hashtags such as #handmade #madeinusa and #madeinamerica, as did a Los Angeles-based woman marketing handbags. He and Jackie Prophit began following each other on social media, which led to direct messaging. “I loved what she was doing with her posts, so we just began communicating,” he said. “After six months, we decided to meet.”

Her decision to visit Fort Worth was easy. “I was wowed by his side-hustle mentality and his passion for matching hats to people, all while running a real estate company,” she said. “I loved that all his customers sent happy smiley selfies in their hats.”

Over the next four years, they traveled between Texas and Los Angeles every weekend, meshing romance and work. Her experience in fashion marketing shaped his brand, changing it from Chieffalo Vintage Hats to Chieffalo Americana.

In 2020, she moved to Fort Worth. “Finding a person whose values, work ethic and quirkiness are aligned with your own, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” she said. The pair eloped, marrying on the county courthouse steps in Marfa, Texas.

Need a vintage cowboy hat? Rodger Chiefallo has become an expert at matching people with the right headwear. Photo by Jill Johnson.

Almost immediately, they opened the Chieffalo Americana store on the brick-paved Camp Bowie Boulevard, taking over a vacated space in one of his properties, a restored 1920s building.

Display cases hold vintage scarves along with belt buckles, cuff links and retro sunglasses. Dozens of old hats in myriad colors cover one wall, and table displays offer restored cowboy boots.

Newer merchandise includes designer coats, dress shirts and pants, all one-of-a-kind items chosen for compatibility with the vintage hats. Shopping at Chieffalo Americana has evolved into a social experience: Weekends frequently bring live music performances.

Jackie Chieffalo described trying not to look too flustered the first time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Bridges, known for his vintage style, came in to buy a hat.

TCU tennis coach Roditi is among the devoted clientele. Roditi credits Chieffalo for urging him to start DFW Tennis Academy, an after-school program at TCU serving all levels of players ages 5-18 since 2011.

“He’s relentless,” Roditi says of Chieffalo, whose son and daughter were elite junior players. (Son Alexander played for Boston College.)

After they became friends, Chieffalo showed up with a hat for Roditi.

“It was this cool cowboy hat, but with a smaller brim, and it was super comfortable. We went to play Columbia in New York when it was really chilly, so I wore it. It caught attention,” Roditi said. “The next year we played Michigan, and I wore it; it got a lot of play on social media. Now I wear the winter and summer hats all the time. I tell everyone you have to go get this guy’s hats. Rodger has so much style.”

Business has grown to the extent that Rodger and Jackie Chieffalo have hired interns from TCU’s fashion merchandising department.

“If I’d gone to any other school,” he said, “life would be completely different.”

Chieffalo Americana’s storefront opened in 2020 on the brick-paved Camp Bowie Boulevard, taking over a vacated space in a restored 1920s building. Photo by Jill Johnson

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