Friday, April 8, 2016


BY: Celia Yeary
     The Cowboy Hat is recognized the world over. While it’s not been around very long, it still is widely known as part of the lore of the Wild West. Today, most cowboy hats are worn by men and women who choose them as a fashion statement instead a part of their work outfit.
     Last evening, I watched one hour of the Country-Music Awards program and was stunned that not one performer during that hour wore a cowboy hat. In fact, not one song sounded country! (I’ll save my complaints about that for another time.)
     People moving west wore many styles of hat, including top hats, derbies, remains of Civil War headgear, sailor hats, and everything else. Contrary to popular belief, it was the bowler and not the cowboy hat that was the most popular in the American West.
The working cowboy wore wide-brimmed, high-crowned hats that were most likely adopted from the Mexican Vaqueros before the invention of the modern design. However, original cowboy hats originated in Northern Mexico and the Stetson hats came later.

THE MAD HATTER—you probably think this term came only from Alice in Wonderland, but no…hat makers were at times "gone mad. Inside the cowboy hat is a memorial bow to past hatters, who developed brain damage from treating felt with toxic mercury. This practice gave rise to the expression “Mad as a Hatter.” The bow on the inside hatband at the rear of the hat resembles a Skull and Crossbones. The first hatters used mercury in the making of their felt. Their bodies absorbed mercury, and after several years of making hats, the hatters developed violent and uncontrollable muscle twitching. The ignorance of the times caused people to attribute these strange gyrations to madness, not mercury.

     John Batterson Stetson created the American cowboy hat as it is known today. The original style was manufactured by Stetson in 1865. It was a flat-brimmed hat with a straight sided crown and rounded corners. These light-weight waterproof hats were natural in color, with four-inch crowns and brims. While only making one style of hat, they came in different qualities ranging from one-grade material at five dollars apiece to pure beaver hats for thirty dollars each. J.B. Stetson was the first to market the "Boss of the Plains" to cowboys, and it has remained the universal image of the American West. The charisma of the west was carried back East when adventurers returned in the expensive “Boss of the Plains” style hat.
"Daddy Wore A Stetson" My daddy was an oil-field worker, but as soon as he could afford one, he bought a Stetson to go with his cowboy boots. Oh, he looked so fine dressed up like this! He only wore them to church, as did other men in the small West Texas town where I grew up. During the heyday of the popularity of the Stetson among common men, every church had pegs along the walls of the foyer so the men could hang their hats up before entering the sanctuary.
The old black and white “cowboy” movies furthered the popularity of the Stetson. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and many others glorified the cowboy hat. Did you notice in all these old movies, the cowboy hero never lost his hat? No matter how vicious the fight, his hat would remain firmly atop his head.

The first American law-enforcement agency to adopt Stetson’s western hat as part of their uniform was the Texas Rangers.
President Ronald Reagan demonstrated the popularity of the cowboy hat as a movie star, as a resident of the American west, and as a horseback rider.
President Lyndon Johnson also wore a cowboy hat.


In 1980, George Strait came upon the CW Music scene. He lived right here in San Marcos, Texas and earned a degree from Southwest Texas State University, now known as Texas State University. He had a band called Ace-in-the-Hole and they played here in town at the still popular Cheatam Street Warehouse. When he first went to Nashville, they told him to “ditch the hat.” He refused, and has gone on to win more awards than any other star. And he still wears that hat.


Facts About Cowboy Hats You Likely Didn't Know
**There are more cowboy hats in Texas than there are people here. That's because most cowboy hat wearers have more than one hat and avid cowboy hat wearers have more than five.
**One of the most often quoted sayings in Texas is, "where did you get that hat?" The second most quoted saying is, "Don't touch my hat!"
** One familiar saying is, "that's the ugliest hat I have ever seen!" The reason for this often quoted saying is that there are now thousands of different types, shapes and styles of cowboy hats and some will like some shapes but others will hate the same ones.

**Country music stars have also kept the cowboy hat mystique alive and well..until around 2012. At that time, CW artists began to ditch the cowboy hat for derbies, knit caps, and baseball caps. As I said in the beginning of this article about the recent Country Music Awards show, I did not see one cowboy hat. To be fair, I only watched one of the three hours.

As for me? I will always enjoy seeing a man wear a Stetson.
Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas


  1. Since shaving my head I've rediscovered the necessity for a hat and the Stetson turns out to be my favorite. It keeps the sun and rain off my face and neck better than the rest. One thing I've discovered is, getting the right fit is vital and can be a chore. In a rack of a dozen hats all marked the same size, usually only one will fit perfect.

    1. I suppose you shaved your head because you were losing hair. I firmly believe your way is best instead of a man trying to hang on to a ring of hair, etc. I know several older men..and one not so old at all...with shaved head, and I like it. If you've seen a photo of my husband on my FB on his birthday when he turned'll see how good he looks. Well, at least, I think so. But a cowboy hat is perfect for you. Jim has various hats, and yes, he'll try on every one of the very same style and size to find one that "fits right." Thanks so much for visiting and commenting.

  2. I fell into that group of people who thought "Madder than a hatter," was from Alice in Wonderland. Thanks for setting me straight on that. I also did not know the little bow inside the hat was put there to honor those who had succumbed to mercury poisoning while making these hats. I found that so interesting. I never knew that significance until now.
    Wow, George Strait lived in your town! How marvelous is that? I love his music. All these iconic actors and musicians who wear Stetsons really put their stamp on the western culture. I didn't see the CMA awards this year so I missed how they weren't wearing the proper attire with Stetsons on their heads.
    Such a great blog, Celia. I love hats--and I think a man with a Stetson is twice as handsome. Just sayin'...
    All the best to you, my friend.

    1. Sarah--this is why we love research, isn't it? We learn so much more than we thought we wanted. I did not know about the mercury poisoning, either.
      Yes, and he lived here for years even after he struck it big. Later, when their son graduated from high school and moved on, and when their Baby Blue Eyes teen daughter was killed about four blocks from where we lived, he and his wife sold out and moved, I think, to Nashville permanently. Nashville, I think, is a great city.
      Truthfully, here in Texas, the baseball cap is the most popular hat by far. Even girls wear them. And I like those, too. I noticed a good number of male Syrian refugees in news clips wearing baseball caps. Very comfortable, versatile hat.
      Thanks for commenting--I love to read your comments.

  3. You're right about not many songs sounding like country on the awards show this time. Tim McGraw usually does wear a cowboy hat. Some guys look better with one of them on, and he's one of them.

    1. I like the photo of Tim McGraw I added to this post. I found quite a few, but this one appealed to me more. And man, can he sing! I count him as "one of the good guys."
      Thanks for the comment.

  4. I knew the origin of the expression but I had no idea the iconic cowboy hat came from the vaqueros.

    1. And I knew the cowboy hat came from the vaqueros, but had never heard where the term Mad Hatter came from. Thanks, Keena.

  5. I asked my hubby if he knew what the Mad Hatter expression meant. He did! I was most impressed. :) I love cowboy hats - have two of them myself and two pairs of boots. I agree about the CMA and while I ran a fan club for a country artist, I enjoyed watching them for a while. Kevin's been gone two years now and I don't watch them anymore. It's a shame they've pulled away from traditional country music. I loved reading about the hats. I wanted to give one of my cowboys a stetson so knew when they came out...too much later to spin it into my story unfortunately. Love George Strait and his hat!!

    1. Not only did they not wear cowboy hats, the music sounded much like soft rock..or something far removed from Country. Only George Strait has stuck with the country sound...only him and his hat...and he's won more awards in every category than any other artist. So. That should prove something...shouldn't it?

    2. It happened before in the late 70s and into the 80s with the country-pop sound and songs like "Rhinestone Cowboy" and crossover singers like Olivia Newton John charted. Then singers like Randy Travis came along, people rediscovered Bluegrass on top of that, and people got back to their roots. I suppose you live long enough, you've seen it all before.

    3. You are so right. Now I remember that era. Maybe we have hope that a new Marty Robbins or Merle Haggard, or Waylon Jennings and "the boys," will return. We'll see. What goes around, comes around. Right?

  6. I can't imagine Texas without cowboy hats, can you? Where we live north of Fort Worth and in Fort Worth many men wear Stetsons, although I think they're now made by some other company.

    1. I can't, Caroline. But Texas is becoming more and more metropolitan. Here in San Marcos? Baseball caps all the way. Except university male students more often wear no hat at all. Thanks.

  7. Hi Celia. Interesting post. Gotta love those cowboy hats. We were in Gruene this week and admired George Strait's picture in Gruene Hall. I get an email from True West Magazine every month and this month they have an article on Lonesome Dove calling it The Godfather of westerns. Robert Duvall had to put his foot down to get the type of hat he thought Gus would wear. And it wasn't your typical cowboy hat but one with the big rounded top. Fit his image perfectly.

    1. You were in Gruene? You could have yelled "Hellloooo Celia" and I would have heard you.
      I love everything about Lonesome Dove..and I've always had a crush on Robert Duvall. I once picked up an oversized postcard at Texas State that was a portrait of Robert Duvall. I propped it on my desk for a long time. Have your ever been to the Whitliff Collection in Alkek Library on the Tx. State campus. A permanent collection of all things Lonesome Dove is there.
      I saw GS in the 90s in New Braunfels at the Crystal Chandelier. My husband and I and our best friends went over to CW dance because George and his Ace in the Hole band were playing. No dancing that night. The place was packed wall-to-wall, standing room only. Carolyn G. and I worked our way from the entrance all the way to the stage to be on the front row..took us half an hour to wiggle through. Our husbands got a longneck and leaned on the back wall and didn't move from that spot all night. Those were the days.

  8. Celia, I so enjoyed your post on cowboy hats. I have always enjoyed, adored and admired any man in a Stetson. Cowboys, Royal Mounted police, country singers, whoever. There's a certain charisma when a female views any half way good looking guy in a Stetson. I don't care what color it is either--I drool, might even get goosies. I have a contemporary story I wrote way back when with a deputy sheriff with a stetson and my heroine tries to resist his charm, but doesn't stand a chance against him when he's got that hat on. I really should get it out of the dust, spruce it up and bring that story to life--maybe someday. So thanks so much for sharing the history of the stetson. Loved your post as always.

    1. Yes! Dig that long lost manuscript out of the closet and spruce it up! Sounds like it would be a fun story.
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I love research, as we all do....right?...and always find far more than I needed. But it's fun.

  9. Those old time cowboy hats sure didn't look anything like today's Stetsons. Thanks for sharing all the interesting facts behind the iconic hats.

    1. So true. Of course, the owner can personalize the hat by creases,in number and position. Those made a difference. But yes, those today are superior. Thanks!

  10. I'm getting to be late commenting every time, Celia. Sorry. I did enjoy learning about cowboy hats and mad hatters. My daddy always wore a hat, either straw in summer or felt in winter but they were not cowboy hats. Kentucky didn't have any cowboys.

    1. Does Mark Chestnut wear a cowboy hat? I can't remember. But at least his music still sounds country. I swear, listening to the CMA awards just annoyed me. They were not singing CW. I guess Kentucky didn't have cowboys.Never thought about it, though. Thanks for making it here, just under the wire!


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