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Cowboy hat

File:Felthat.jpg
A felt cowboy hat
File:Strawhat.jpg
A straw cowboy hat

The cowboy hat is a high-crowned, wide-brimmed hat best known as the defining piece of attire for the North American cowboy. Today it is worn by many people, and is particularly associated with ranch workers in the western and southern United States, western Canada and northern Mexico, with country-western singers, and for participants in the North American rodeo circuit. It is recognized around the world as part of Old West cowboy lore. The shape of a cowboy hat's crown and brim are often modified by the wearer for fashion and to protect against weather.

It is an item of apparel that can be worn in any corner of the world, and receive immediate recognition as part of North American cowboy culture.[1]

The first western model was the open crowned "Boss of the plains," and after that came the front creased Carlsbad, destined to become “the” cowboy style.[2] The high crowned, wide brimmed, soft felt western hats that followed are intimately associated with the cowboy image.[3]

Contents

Design

Modern cowboy hats are made of fur-based felt, straw or, less often, leather. They are sold with a tall, rounded crown and a wide flat brim. They have a simple sweat band on the inside to stabilize the fit of the head, and usually a small decorative hat band on the outside of the crown. Hats are customized by creasing the crown and rolling the brim. Often a more decorative hatband is added. In some places, "stampede strings" or "wind strings" are also attached.[4] Hats can be manufactured in virtually any color, but are most often seen in shades of beige, brown and black. Beginning in the 1940s, pastel colors were introduced, seen often on hats worn by movie cowboys and rodeo riders.[5] "Today's cowboy hat has remained basically unchanged in construction and design since the first one was created in 1865 by J.B. Stetson."[1]

History

File:Texascowboys (cropped).jpg
Modern working cowboys wearing cowboy hats

The concept of a broad-brimmed hat with a high crown worn by a rider on horseback can be seen as far back as the Mongolian horsemen of the 13th century.[6] A tall crown provided insulation, the wide brim, shade. In hot, sunny climates, hats evolved to have wide brims, such as the sombrero of Mexico.

"Cowboy hats go back to almost the inception of the cowboy himself.”[7] However, It is not clear when the cowboy's hat began to be named as such. Westerners originally had no standard head wear. People moving west wore many styles of hat, including top hats, derbies, remains of Civil War headgear, sailor hats and everything else.[8][9] In fact contrary to popular belief, it was the bowler and not the cowboy hat that was the most popular hat in the American West, prompting Lucius Beebe to call it "the hat that won the West."[10] The working cowboy wore wide-brimmed, high-crowned hats long before the invention of the modern design.[11] However, credit for "invention" of the cowboy hat as it is known today is generally given to John Batterson Stetson.[12]

The original "Boss of the plains," manufactured by Stetson in 1865, was flat-brimmed, had a straight sided crown, with rounded corners.[13] These light-weight, waterproof hats, were natural in color, with four inch crowns and brims.[14] A plain hatband was fitted to adjust head size.[15] The sweatband bore Stetson’s name.[8] While only making one style of hat, they came in different qualities ranging from one-grade material at five dollars apiece to pure beaver felt hats for thirty dollars each.[16] J.B. Stetson was the first to market the "Boss of the plains," to Cowboys, where it has remained the universal image of the American West.[17] The charisma of the West was carried back East when adventurers returned in the expensive “Boss of the plains,” style hat.[18]
File:Reagan with horse.jpg
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.

Modern designs

Ornamentation, such as bows or buckles, was attached on the left side. Historically this had a practical purpose. Because the majority of people are generally right-handed, in the absence of a wide brim, bows or feathers on the right side of headwear could interfere with the use of weapons.[6]

Inside the cowboy hat is a memorial bow to past hatters, who developed brain damage from treating felt with toxic mercury (which 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.[19] "Early 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.”[6]

The modern cowboy hat has remained basically unchanged in construction and underlying design since the Stetson creation.[1] The cowboy hat quickly developed the capability, even in the early years, to identify its wearer as someone associated with the West.[20] "Within a decade the name John B. Stetson became synonymous with the word "hat," in every corner and culture west of the Mississippi."[21] The shape of the hat's crown and brim were often modified by the wearer for fashion and to protect against weather by being softened in hot steam, shaped, and allowed to dry and cool. Felt tends to stay in the shape that it dries.[22] Because of the ease of personalization, it was often possible for people to tell where a cowboy hat was from, right down to which ranch, simply by looking at the crease in the crown.[17]

File:Williamshart.jpg
Silent film actor William S. Hart

Later as the mystique of the "Wild West" was popularized by entertainers such as Buffalo Bill Cody and western movies starring actors such as Tom Mix, the Cowboy hat came to symbolize the American West.[23] John Wayne christened them "the hat that won the West."[3] The Boss of the plains design influenced various wide-brimmed hats worn by farmers and stockmen all over the United States. Later designs were customized for law enforcement, military and motion pictures.

The first American law-enforcement agency to adopt Stetson’s western hat as part of their uniform was the Texas Rangers.[24] A Stetson-based design is also part of the ceremonial uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.[25] Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B Johnson wore cowboy hats manufactured by Stetson.[24]

Creases in cowboy hats are used to give hats individual character and to help users identify with a particular subculture. A very popular crease used on modern cowboy hats is the Cattlemen. It is creased right down the center of the crown with a dent on each side. Returning in popularity is the Carlsbad crease, now sometimes called a "Gus crease" after a character in Lonesome Dove. It maintains a high crown at the back with the crease sloping steeply toward the front. The rodeo crease, the bullrider's crease (Formerly called the RCA crease, for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), the quarter horse crease, and the “tycoon," with a pinched front, are also seen today.[26]

"Ten gallon" hat

Some cowboy hats have been called "ten gallon" hats. The term came into use about 1925.[27] There are multiple theories for how the concept arose.

One possibility is that the tight weave of most Stetsons hats made them sufficiently waterproof to be used as a bucket. Early print advertising by Stetson showed a cowboy giving his horse a drink of water from a hat.[28] The Stetson company notes that a "ten gallon" hat only holds 3 quarts (about 3 L instead of 40 L).[29] However, though a very high quality felt hat made from animal fur may hold water,[30] even a cowboy hat with a large crown holds less than a gallon of water, and over time, any cloth container will leak.

The durability and water-resistance of the original Stetson obtained additional publicity in 1912, when they raised the battleship USS Maine, which had been sunk in Havana harbor in 1898. They found a Stetson hat which had been submerged in seawater for 14 years; it had been exposed to ooze, mud, and sea-growths of the water of the harbor. However, the hat was renovated and to all appearances was as good as ever.[31]

Modern hats are usually not made to be as durable as the original designs. When most modern felt hats get wet, the hat is apt to lose much of its ability to hold its shape, thus using it as a water container will destroy most modern hats, other than a few at the very highest quality range.[citation needed]

Another theory is that the term "ten gallon" is possibly a corruption of the Spanish term "galón", or galloon, a type of narrow braided trimming around the crown, possibly a style adapted by the vaqueros. "The term ten-gallon did not originally refer to the holding capacity of the hat, but to the width of a Mexican sombrero hatband, and is more closely related to this unit of measurement by the Spanish than to the water-holding capacity of a Stetson.”[30] Thus, the term "ten-gallon" did not originally refer to the holding capacity of the hat, but to the width of a sombrero hatband.[30] When Texas cowboys misunderstood the word "galón" for "gallon", the popular, though incorrect, legend may have been born.

See also

  • John B. Stetson Company
  • Boss of the plains
  • Western wear
  • Chupalla
  • Bowler hat
  • Sombrero

Footnotes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Reynolds and Rand, p. 8.
  2. Foster-Harris, p. 106.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Snyder, p. 5.
  4. Christian, needs page #
  5. Snyder, p. 27.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Bender, p.#
  7. "Cowboy Hat History." Web page.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Carlson, p.#
  9. Cowboyhathistory.org. Web page.
  10. The Hat That Won the West, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=336&dat=19571026&id=xQQpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=PkgDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7036,5636283, retrieved 2010-02-10 
  11. Bender, p. 11.
  12. Sobey, Edwin J.C. Young Inventors at Work! Learning Science by Doing Science (1999) p. 95. ISBN 067357735X.
  13. Snyder, p. 73.
  14. Snyder, p. 51.
  15. Bender, p. 54.
  16. Snyder, p. #
  17. 17.0 17.1 Reynolds & Rand, p. 17.
  18. Snyder, p. 49.
  19. Snyder, p. 32.
  20. Reynolds & Rand, p. 10.
  21. Bender, p. 12.
  22. The Fedora Lounge. Web site..
  23. Reynolds & Rand, p. 15.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Snyder, p. 10.
  25. "History" at Hitching post.net. Web site.
  26. Blevins, p. 371.
  27. Bender, p. 31.
  28. Snyder, p. 11.
  29. Frequently asked questions, Stetson Hat Company. Web site.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Reynolds & Rand, p. 11.
  31. John B. Stetson Company (1927) Stetson Hats the World Over. The Story of 50 Years of Stetson Foreign Business. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: John B. Stetson Company .


References

  • Blevins, Winfred. Dictionary of the American West: over 5,000 terms and expressions from Aarigaa! to Zopilote (2001) ISBN 1570613044
  • Carlson, Laurie. (1998) Boss of the plains, the hat that won the West. ISBN 0-7894-2479-7
  • Foster-Harris, William (2007) The Look of the Old West: A Fully Illustrated Guide ISBN 160239024X
  • Snyder, Jeffrey B. (1997) Stetson Hats and the John B. Stetson Company 1865-1970. ISBN 0-7643-0211-6



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