Friday, May 18, 2018

WHAT’S A COWBOY WITHOUT A COWBOY HAT? By Sarah J. McNeal #YouAintNoCowboyWithoutAHat #Sweethearts-of-the-West-blog

Pawnee Bill and Zack Miller Ranch 101

I love to wear hats so it’s mighty disappointing to me that women just don’t wear hats like they used to. Somewhere in the 1960’s hats became extinct—or just about anyway.

But cowboy hats are still out there, in fact, maybe even stronger than ever. I guess the reason for their popularity is practicality. Baseball caps which have become so popular these days, are not enough for a real cowpoke’s needs. For one thing, baseball caps may keep the sun out of a cowboy’s eyes, but does little else to protect them from the elements. Personally, another advantage in a cowboy hat is that they are just plain sexy. C’mon, you know there is nothing quite as manly as a man in a Stetson
Just so we’re all clear on exactly what a cowboy hat is, here are some facts:

A cowboy hat is a high-crowned, wide-brimmed hat which grew from the 19th century Mexican culture and has been redefined over time and even by certain individuals because the shape of the hat’s crown and brim are often modified by the wearer depending on taste, fashion, and the weather.
Although cowboy hats may be worn on every continent around the world, it is recognized immediately as part of the American old west and its cowboy culture. From northern Mexico, through western United States, and up into western Canada, the cowboy hat is the iconic gear of a ranch worker, country-western singers, rodeo circuit participants, and movies depicting the west.

The first western cowboy hat was called “Boss of the Plains.” The front-creased “Carlsbad” followed soon after, until the high-crowned, wide-brimmed, soft felt western hats arrived on the scene and became the image we associate with the cowboy today.

A Stetson circa 1920's

The modern renditions of  cowboy hats are made from fur-based (mostly beaver) felt or straw, and sometimes leather. They are sold with a high rounded crown and a wide, flat brim. A simple sweat band on the inside of the crown just before the brim stabilizes the fit of the head. After the initial hat is purchased it can be customized with creases in the crown and a rounded or winged brim according to the owner’s wishes. Often a decorative band fits around the crown on the outside of the hat according to the taste of the individual wearer. Ornamentation such as buckles, bows, and so on are traditionally attached to the left side for an historically practical purpose. Most people are right handed, in the absence of a broad brim, decorative feathers or bows on the right side would interfere with the use of weapons.

Most often the colors are in shades of beige, brown, black, and gray. In the 1940’s pastel colors were introduced and seen on hats worn by movie cowboys and rodeo riders. The most famous and popular design and structure for a cowboy hat was created by J.B. Stetson since it was first introduced back in 1865.

Stetson focused on expensive, high quality hats that were a real investment for working cowboys. The water resistance and durability of the original Stetson gained publicity in 1912 when the USS Maine was raised from the Havana harbor where it had sunk in 1898. They found a Stetson hat in the wreckage which had been exposed to seawater, ooze, mud, and plant growth for 14 years. Amazingly, when that hat was cleaned off it was undamaged. You couldn’t create a better sales pitch than that for a durable, tough cowboy hat.

A Fedora

Just a little side info here about the difference between a fedora and a cowboy hat because of the many variations in a cowboy hat the difference can be a little obscure. So, here are the guidelines to separate and clarify fedoras from cowboy hats:

Fedoras have smaller brims from cowboy hats. They also have a stylish front pinch or dip in the front. Most fedoras have a wide grosgrain hatband. Think about that Frank Sinatra look. There is a wide variety of options in fedoras even though not as many as a cowboy hat. The top of the crown may vary in shape from an open crown, center dent, oval or teardrop shape.

Man in a Fedora

A fedora also has something called a “snap brim” so the brim can be worn up on every side much like a bowler hat. The snap feature on the fedora allows the wearer to snap the front brim down into place like a cool hipster. When the hat is to be stored, the brim can be snapped back into place to maintain its structure.

Indiana Jones’s hat looks like a mixed breed between the two, but it is a fedora and NOT a cowboy hat. It has the wide hatband and the pinched down dip in the front.

There are many famous movie stars, singers, and even a president who wore cowboy hats.

Bill Picket, a Famous Rodeo "Bull Dogger"

Frankie Laine Western Singer

Tim McGraw Country Singer

Tom Mix Silent Film Cowboy (and Friend of Wyatt Earp)

William S. Hart Silent Film Cowboy

Ronald Reagon, Actor and President of the United States

Here is a little scene with Hank Wilding and his Stetson in my book, HOME FOR THE HEART:

Smoothing her hands over her lavender shirtwaist dress, Lucy took a deep breath. Hank is never going to be interested in a plain woman like me. She turned from the mirror just as she heard the knock on the front door downstairs.

Her mother called up the stairs. “Lucy, honey, Hank is here.”

A thrill rippled through Lucy’s core. Hank. Handsome, unattainable, Hank Wilding. A reminder flashed through her mind. Even if she was beautiful, it wouldn’t matter. Hank was a self-proclaimed bachelor. Guard your heart, Lucille Thoroughgood. It will only get broken.

The sight of Hank standing with his hat held politely in his hands at the bottom of the stairs caused her heart to leap into her throat and beat so fast she could barely breathe. Her hands shook from the surge of adrenaline. No man should be that beautiful. A lock of his bronzed hair had an enticing way of falling over his brow. She wanted so much to touch it and sweep it back just so she could feel its texture. Hank gazed up the stairs at her with his dark brown eyes and seemed to hold her in his spell. And if that wasn’t enough, he grinned at her in that charming, crooked way she found so endearing. It wasn’t often Hank smiled. He frowned most of the time. It was a good thing, too, because, if he did smile often, women all over town would be swooning at his feet.

Diverse stories filled with heart


  1. Gotta love those cowboy hats. Personally, I've never been comfortable in a dressy hat, but I do love to wear a cowboy hat on occasion. Of course in England, hats are still a big thing and I love admiring the hats worn by the nobs. Don't you know tomorrow's wedding will be an interesting hat parade.

    1. I have worn all kinds of hats, but never a cowboy hat. I even have a hat collection that includes vintage hats. I don't wear them anymore, but I love looking at them.
      I'm going to get up early and watch the whole wedding. Yes! I do believe there will be some extraordinary hats at the wedding. Can't wait to see them.
      Thank you so much for dropping in, Linda.

  2. Yup, a guy in a cowboy hat has the power to steal a gal's heart. Thanks for sharing the history of this icon of the west and explaining the difference between a cowboy hat and a fedora. One of my favorite TV series, The Black List, features a character who wears a fedora most of the time.

  3. Sarah,

    I like Quigley's (Tom Selleck) cowboy hat in the movie 'Quigley Down Under'. Marston's (Alan Rickman) hat is flat topped with a flat, wide brim. Hmmm... Maybe it's not so much the hats that I like in this movie, but rather the actors... *wink*

    1. Kaye, I loved Alan Rickman in everything he played--especially the Col. Brandon in Sense And Sensibility. His voice was mesmerizing.
      Thank you for your comment, Kaye. I really do appreciate it.

  4. Lyn, I watched the whole series of The Black List. I loved the intrigue and I did love James Spader's character, Raymond, and his fedora. I have a character in a book who wears a fedora--Song Of My Heart. Hats can really define a character.
    I am so glad you could come, Lyn, and thank you for your comment.

    1. Sarah, I disliked James spader when he was young because he often played a snotty, nose-in-air character. Now, I like him as Raymond Reddington. He's perfect for the role.

    2. Lyn, He did seem to pick those snobby rolls...I think it was his looks like a rich brat. But he did play a good guy in the sci-fi movie, StarGate. He also played a neat character in that TV series about lawyers--the title escapes me at the moment. He doesn't look anything like his younger self now.

  5. I confess, I love both the cowboy hat and fedora. I actually have both and have been known to wear them on occassion. Really enjoyed the history. Doris

    1. Doris, you should post some pictures of you in those hats. Thank you for your comment.


  6. Good article, Sarah. This NJ/CA girl was astonished at a NM relative's funeral to see most men in cowboy hats and kept them on throughout the service. My own is purple suede...

    1. Honestly Arletta, I am shocked to learn men kept their hats on during a funeral service. Now understand I am a south-easterner and may not know the proper manners for western men, but I was taught men remove their hats when they step inside the house or attend a religious service indoors or out. Here in the south, people pull their cars over and stop when a funeral procession passes in respect. But these are southern traditions and may not apply in western culture.

      A purple cowboy hat! I'd like to see a picture of that. I have only owned one cowboy hat, a black, flat-brimmed hat I had in my 20's. I wore it when I had my driver's license renewed, but they asked me to remove it from my head for the picture so only the brim was visible behind my head. I don't know what happened to it over the years, but I did love it.

      Thank you for coming and commenting, Arletta. I do appreciate it.


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