A History of Old West Hats – Part Three

O.K., so you want to get yourself a cowboy hat.  Here are some guidelines.  Early cowboys spent as much as a month’s pay for their hat.  Today it should not be more than a few days’ pay, after taxes.  First, if you want to look like a cowboy do not get a hat made of leather, denim or corduroy.  It needs to be either straw or felt.  If you are only getting one cowboy hat, make it felt.  Unless you are going to wear it only once or twice a year, stay away from wool felt.  It doesn’t hold up, and it will shrink in the rain.  And speaking of rain, wearing a plastic cover on your hat in the rain is the sign of a city dude.  Rain doesn’t affect good Old West hats.

Wild Bill - Old West hats
Wild Bill Hickok

If you are one of those guys who will be wearing your cowboy hat the minute you take off your business attire, I would suggest you look into a custom cowboy hat.  Not only will you have a much larger selection of styles that allow you to select the one that fits your unique personality, the hat will be made to fit the size and shape of your head. (For a good custom hat manufacturer check the back page of this issue.)

Whether you decide on an “off the shelf” hat or custom one, getting the right size is important.  You don’t want the hat to sit on top of your head.  A cowboy hat should be worn no more than ½ inch above your ears.  If after wearing your hat for a short while it creates a red mark on your forehead, it is too small.  A cowboy hat is not a torture device.  It should be as comfortable as a baseball cap.  Incidentally, hats have a brim all the way around them.  Caps have one only in the front. (With today’s style, I guess the brim would actually be in the back.)

Even though Doc Holliday wore his hat raked to the side, unless you are going to a reenactment event as Doc Holliday, don’t wear yours that way. (For an authentic version of Doc’s hat click HERE.) And don’t wear it tilted back on your head.  It just tells everyone you don’t ride horses.  The first time you gallop a horse with your cowboy hat on the back of your head, you will understand what I mean.  You may see photos of early and current cowboys that look as if their hats are tilted backward.  It doesn’t mean they wore them that way when they worked.  Because the wide brim shades the face, a photographer will often ask the cowboy being photographed to tilt his hat backwards to allow more light on his face.

How you take care of a cowboy hat is determined by whether it is a work or dress hat.  Today many cowboys have one of each.  If it is a work hat, the dirtier the better.  Dress hats need care and maintenance.  Use a soft brush to clean off the dust.  Brush the brim in a counterclockwise direction.  To get rid of spots use a wet linen cloth or extra fine sandpaper.

We have all seen some people who look great in cowboy hats and others who look funny.  It is not the person.  It is the wrong style of hat, worn the wrong way.  Any man or woman can look great in a cowboy hat, because we are all cowboys at heart.

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