Cowboy Hat History and Tradition

The modern cowboy hat has evolved from the sombreros Mexican Vaqueros wore. The wide brims gave them protection from the elements while they herded cattle. 

Today’s hats can be made from straw or died wool felt (Stetson’s are made from fur felt.) Traditionally, straw is for summer because it’s cooler. A good straw hat can range from weary and worn, to one with a tight weave and glossy finish for going out dancing. 

Tradition says straw hats are worn before Labor Day and after Labor Day cowboys wear felt hats but I’ve seen both in the show ring during the summer.

Felt is for winter and for times when a cowboy wants to make a good impression. Not that you’d see this today, but another advantage to a felt hat is it can double as a bucket for watering your horse. However, if water was close enough to fill my hat, I think I’d rather let my horse drink from the source. Unless of course I had to hand pump from a well. 

Superstitious Cowboys
Some rodeo cowboys believe you’ll bring bad luck to yourself if you lay your cowboy hat on a bed. This article from Horsey Hooves has some pretty good justification for this superstition.

And also if you set your hat so that the opening for the crown faces up,(but not on a bed), it will catch good luck, something all of us would welcome.

Cowboy Hat Parts and Fit
The top of the cowboy hat that fits over your head is called the crown and the crease is the indentation in the crown. Different creases make a statement, and each cowboy has his favorite. The same goes for the brim, the circular part around the hat. It can be shaped to suit a cowboy’s style. 

A new hat should fit almost uncomfortably tight since hats expand with heat from your head. This is how the hat shapes to fit your head. According to a straw hat should fit even tighter because they fly off in the wind more frequently than the heavier felts. 

Who knew a cowboy’s hat should be pinchy like a pair of four-inch heels?  

Shorty’s Tips on Cowboy Hat Care
Recently, Shorty’s Caboy Hattery shared some dos and don’ts about cowboy hat care with AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) members.  

Here’s what Shorty’s said:
DON’T leave your hat in a hot horse trailer or car. Heat can change the shape and condition of your hat.
DO make sure you set your hat crown down rather than the brim (upside down).
DON’T stack your hats – in a carrier or flat. This will leave a ring around the crown.
DON’T wipe dirt or stains off of your hat if it is wet. Let it dry before wiping off dirt with a sponge or brush.
DO let your hat dry if caught in a rainstorm before putting back in storage. If you set it in the hat can, give it time to dry before closing. If you don’t use a hat can, hang it up until its dry.
DON’T let your straw sit on the dash of your vehicle in direct sunlight. This will cause your hat to get tighter. 

The Price of a Cowboy Hat
I checked prices at a few different websites. It seems there is also a market for quality used hats and I saw some priced at $750. 

Stetson’s El Amo sells for $1,620 and their Diamante Premier is a mere $5,500. credits Lady Gaga for the most expensive cowboy hat ever made. It took ten people three hundred hours to make and had 45,700 Swarovski crystals. 

Wow, that makes John Wayne’s hat that sold for $119,500 in 2011 look like chump change. 

For us real-life folks, though, you can buy a cowboy hat on Amazon for under $50 or a low-end straw from for $130. 

I hope you’re wearing your straw hat for the summer. For other posts about summer fun check out this post on Summer Horsemanship Camp.

Thanks for joining me to talk about cowboy hats and have a great remaining summer.
Barbara Ellin Fox

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