Back in the summer of 1996, in the wake of co-creator Larry David’s departure, Seinfeld writers Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer were pondering where the popular NBC comedy should go next. George’s patient but luckless fiancée, Susan, had been killed off by poisoned envelopes at the end of the seventh season, and the writers also needed “something new and fun” for career-hopping Elaine Benes to do. What Berg and Schaffer came up with was Seinfeld’s eighth season premiere, “The Foundation.” Perhaps the best remembered element of that classic episode was a strange bit of Mexico-inspired apparel called the Urban Sombrero, supposedly a product that Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) had devised for her employer, catalog maven J. Peterman (John O’Hurley). The patently ridiculous Urban Sombrero proved so popular for so long with Seinfeld viewers that as recently as April 2016, there was a failed Kickstarter campaign to make it a reality. To find the real story behind the Urban Sombrero, writers Ashley Burns and Chloe Schildhause investigated, and they present their findings in a story for Uproxx.
Berg and Schaffer decided to send Elaine traipsing through Mexico “on Peterman’s dime,” supposedly doing research for potential catalog products. But, being “a terrible employee,” the best Elaine could manage to come up with was the Urban Sombrero, a shade-giving, wide-brimmed hat that would allow overworked corporate types to take naps in the middle of the afternoon. Though the show relentlessly mocked his catalogs and his products, the real J. Peterman loved the attention he got on Seinfeld, the story reveals.
That company went bust in 1999, not long after the Seinfeld finale, but relaunched in 2001 with a campaign featuring actor O’Hurley, indicating how intertwined Seinfeld and the real J. Peterman had become by then. Fifteen years later, when it was time to launch the Kickstarter campaign, O’Hurley was again the spokesman. Sadly, not enough people wanted a real Urban Sombrero, and the crusade flickered out. Uproxx asked the Seinfeld writers whether they would actually wear a real Urban Sombrero. Schaffer says yes, but only “after a big lunch.” Berg promises he would “put it on a shelf in my office and display it.”