The cowboy hat is a definitive garment that was inherited from the Wild West. Synonymous with the North American cowboy, it was designed in 1863 by John B. Stetson, based on influences from Mexican culture. Although the current style of cowboy hat is not identical to the style originally made by Stetson (known as “Boss of the Plains”), the modern cowboy hat remains largely unchanged in construction and design.
The original Stetson’s durability and water resistance gained additional publicity in 1912, when the warship USS Maine was lifted from the port of Havana, where it had sunk in 1898. A Stetson hat was found in the wreck, which had been submerged in water from the sea for 14 years. The hat had been exposed to goo, mud and plant growth. However, the hat was cleaned and appeared to be undamaged.
But, if you feel intimidated by the wide variety that exists, we are here to help you. So don’t feel lost! Here is an intensive course on the wonderful world of cowboy hats…
The Cowboy Hat Design
The original design of the cowboy hat had a tall, rounded crown and a wide, flat brim, usually made of felt, straw or even leather. The inside of the hat is equipped with a simple sweat band to help stabilize the hat while in use.
The customization of the hat starts at the crease of the crown and the bearing of the rim, this gives the modern hat a differentiation of style. Sometimes, a decorative headband is added to the hat to help accentuate its characteristics. Cowboy hats can be made in any color, but the more traditional cowboy hats have shades of beige, brown or black. Originally, felt hats were intended for winter use (protection against moisture and cold) and straw for summer (protection against heat and sun), which is logical.
Most modern cowboy hats are usually adorned with bows or buckles attached to the left side of the hat band. This, at one point, served a practical purpose, since most people were right-handed, in the absence of a wide brim, the additional ornaments could interfere with the use of a weapon or lasso. The modern hat quickly went from functionality and practically to a fashion statement when western films became known. Artists like Tom Mix and John Wayne influenced the hat market, making it stylish and trendy.
Cowboy Hat Style Meaning
Today’s cowboy hat has remained essentially unchanged in construction and design since Stetson’s first creation. The cowboy hat quickly developed the ability, even in the early years, to identify its wearer as someone associated with the West. Within a decade, the name John B. Stetson became synonymous with the word hat in all corners and cultures of western Mississippi.
The shape of the crown and the brim of the hat was often modified by the user to protect himself from the weather or fashion, being softened in hot steam, shaped and allowed to dry and cool. Felt tends to remain in the dry form. Due to the ease of customization, it was often possible to tell where a hat was from, even the same ranch, simply by looking at the crease in the crown.
The Wild West mystique was popularized by personalities like Buffalo Bill and films starring actors like Tom Mix, the cowboy hat came to symbolize the American West. John Wayne christened them as the hat that won the West. The design of the Boss of the Plains influenced several wide-brimmed hats worn by farmers across the United States.
How to Determine the Style
Typically, the crease on a cowboy hat gives the hat an individual character and helps to identify the user of your specific subculture. Functionally, the crease helps to wear or remove the hat, grabbing it by the crown instead of the brim. To the average hat user, these changes may not seem like much, but each style carries its own individual meaning and functionality that helped make the Cowboy hat what it is today. Below are some examples of popular creases:
The most traditional and best known crease, the Cattleman, is the oldest crease found in the cowboy hat. This style began when farm owners wanted to differentiate the look of the rodeo pedestrian. The Cattleman features a taller but narrower crown, typically between four and five inches tall, a single crease in the center of the crown with two folds at the side.
Functionally, the larger crown was used during high winds or rain, as the cowboy dipped his hat further over his head so that it would not come loose and fall. The Cattleman crease is not exclusive to felt hats, as many manufacturers have adopted the style in the straw hat lines. The Cattleman hat has slight variations in style, depending on the user. One of the most popular stylistic changes was called the Gus hat. Adhering to all the traditional creases that make up Cattleman, the Gus hat has the front of the crown tightened almost giving the hat an outback style appearance.
The Pinch Front crease comprises two common-style crowns, the drop crown and the diamond crown; both styles are typically seen in formal, trilby and outback hats. The Pinch Front hat differs from the typical Fedora, as the brim is usually larger and has the traditional Cowboy style. Some Pinch Front Hats take the form and shape of the traditional outback hat, as the “Cowboy Hat” and the “Outback Hat” have almost merged into one style. Women tend to prefer the Pinch Front crown over the other traditional Cattleman crease. The pincer front tends to accentuate the narrower and more delicate lines of the jaw and can help to make the user’s face thinner.
Montana’s crease derives from the state that bears its name, Montana. This particular crease is similar to the Cattleman with some distinct differences. The indentations on the sides of the crown are smaller and less pronounced than on the back of the crown. The central tooth is more pronounced and compressed at the front, but much less pronounced at the back of the crown. This creates the appearance that the crown of the hat tilts down to a point and reaches the top of the back; while the flap follows the traditional Cattleman style.
In the northern parts of the United States, this hat is considered the American cowboy hat, because for a long time this style was unique to Montana and counties close to state lines. The Tom Mix crease is a Montana variant, with a more pronounced footprint in front of the crown and a ½-inch flap. Tom Mix set the precedent for most fashionable hats during the 1920s and 1930s as a Hollywood icon. He is considered the original star of the cowboy film and influenced the fashion that would lead presidents and prime ministers of his time to try to emulate his stylistic look. Along with John B Stetson, Tom Mix is one of the most influential users of cowboy hats to date.
The Telescope crease, or Gambler, derives from the Mexican Cowboys or “Charros” who traveled from Mexico to Nevada to work. The lower height of the crown prevents the accumulation of hot air, making it a cooler hat, and the wide, flat brim offers excellent sun protection. Telescope is similar to Bolero and is most commonly made from fur or wool felt. Many other styles of hats are derived from the Telescope, one of the most well-known hats is the Porkpie made famous by the character of Brian Cranston in the series Breaking Bad. The Telescope is more or less without creases, as the crown is completely rounded at the top with a small circular cutout in the middle of the crown, emulating the appearance of a telescope lens. Its functionality surpassed its fashion, as it was built for heavy work in the sun.
The Open Crown crease is just a formal name, as the hat crown is completely rounded and lacks a crease. The crown is more like a sombrero and was known as the “10-gallon hat”. This term is believed to have become popular when cattle ranchers and farmers in Texas and the Southwest met with Mexican cowboys who wore hats with braided headgear – called “galóns” in Spanish. The “10 galón” umbrella was a hat with a crown large enough to accommodate 10 ribbons. The brim of the hat sports the traditional sombrero with a small ½-inch rise in the brim or the Cattleman style on the sides of the brim.
The Cutter crease seen on cowboy hats is a modified Cattleman crease. In the 1970s, the Cutter crease had protrusions in the side crease of the hat’s crown. The bumps on the crown gave cutters more headroom in their hat when performing on a horse in the arena.
The Biggs crease has a modified Cattleman crown and a square flap with the sides slightly pulled up.
The Bull Rider has a wide crown and slightly sloping sides. Any open crown hat can be creased to the Bull Rider’s crease. It was known in the 1970s as the crease “RCA” (Rodeo Cowboy Association). The RCA crease resulted from a crease called the Canadian crease. The Canadian crease had a tall, square crown. The bull pawns, wearing their crowns shorter than the Canadian crease, had a wider crease on the hat, which made the crown shorter.
The Gus crease is a popular crease and has been around since the 19th century. Cowboys from the old west liked the Gus crease on their hat, because they could grab the narrow part of the hat’s crown and bow in front of the ladies. The crown of the hat has a dramatic backward tilt and is still worn by many cowboys today.
The Diamond hat is similar to the Pinch Front, but it is also attached to the back, creating a diamond shape if you are looking at the top hat, hence the name.
The Brick style hat looks like the traditional vintage hat, with a shape like the popular Cattleman, with the brim rolled up in front, making the hat assume a drop shape. But what sets Brick apart is its square crown and rectangular crease at the top, which looks like a brick.
In Brazil we also have our typical hats like:
In addition to beauty and functionality, they must offer security. That’s because one of the intentions is to use them to deal in the field, and the perfect fit on the head is essential. Sturdy, beautiful and comfortable hats are part of a straightforward outfit and are all the cowboy needs to work, ride or party. So, choose yours very carefully to enjoy all the convenience they can offer.