Strong winds tended to create problems for cowboys whether their hats were wide brimmed or narrow brimmed. Originally the brims of cowboy hats were soft so they would fold back in a strong wind, and the wind could not catch underneath the brim. The first cowboy hats were almost like those modern day sport hats that let the owner stuff them in their pocket with no change to the shape when they were worn. Early cowboy hats were so soft some cowboys rolled them up to be used as a pillow. Later as styles dictated a stiffer brim, a cowboy screwed down his hat and developed the ability to always keep his head tilted into the wind. When the wind got too strong he used a latigo leather string threaded through the brim of the hat, and tied it around his chin to make it virtually impossible for the hat to leave his head. This device developed the name “stampede string.” – No explanation necessary. And then there were the Wild West hats…
During the time Buffalo Bill Cody and others had Wild West shows, the brims and crowns of cowboy hats got wider and taller. This is because the shows performed in large arenas and the promoters wanted the people in the “cheap seats” to also enjoy the show. So everything was made larger and more dramatic.
Today’s expensive hats are made from fur felt (rabbit or beaver) and inexpensive hats are made of wool felt. A single hat can contain as many as eight different types of fur. Originally the X’s on the band of a cowboy hat indicated the grade of the fur and the content of beaver. A 10X was 100% beaver. Anything below 5X contained little or no beaver. Today the number of X’s on the sweatband is determined by each manufacturer’s own standards. One company’s 5X may be equal to another’s 10X. There is even a 100X.
Ever wonder about that bow attached a cowboy hat’s sweatband? Some people use it as an indicator to determine which side is the back of the hat. Over the years this little bow has prevented a lot of embarrassment. A cowboy hat on backwards is a sure sign of a dude. Actually, today it is about as useful as that piece of flesh that hangs down the back of your throat. Back in the 1800’s cowboy hats were not made in the variety of sizes they are today. The ribbon was attached to the two ends of the sweatband to allow the sweatband to be adjusted to the owner’s head size. Now it is just another symbol of times past.