There's nothing more symbolic of the American West than the cowboy hat. With a a wide brim and a pinched crown, and made of felt or straw, the classic shape of the Western hat is always instantly recognizable. Whether you call it a 10-gallon hat or a Stetson, cowboys have a million and one uses for these indispensable accessories.
Invented by John B. Stetson in 1865, cowboy hats are instantly recognizable because of their high crowns and wide flat brims. Most have sweatbands on the inside rim, and hatbands which can be either practical or decorative. The famous "ten-gallon" moniker came not from the unit of measurement but from the Spanish word "galon," a type of braided trim.
The most common material for fashioning a cowboy hat, felt is popular for a reason. It's thick, economical and offers as much protection as you need against harmful UV rays. However, when worn under harsh sunlight, felt doesn't offer as much ventilation as a straw or half-breed hat.
Loose woven straw strips are coated with lacquer to help these hats keep their shape and stay stiff, as well as being breathable. But don't wear these at high noon, since they offer little protection against glare and can lead to a sunburn.
The first hat fashioned by Stetson was made of beaver hide, and some hat makers today continue to use fur or hide in their hats. Leather cowboy hats tend to be heavy and lack ventilation, and can be impractical for work uses, although a well-worn-in leather hat can make a powerful style statement.
The traditional cowboy hat invented by Stetson has undergone many permutations over the years. It's just as much a statement of style these days as it is gear for the working cowboy. Women, in particular, wanting to try this style can find hats fashioned in a rainbow of options, from leopard print to pink plush, and even adorned with glitter.
- PickyGuide: Types of Cowboy Hats
- "Stetson Hats and the John B. Stetson Company 1865-1970;" Jeffrey B. Snyder; Atglen, Penn.; Schiffer; 2000
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