Part 1: Cowboy Hat History, Parts and Styles
Hats Were Made For You
How you think about a cowboy hat pretty much sums up how you think of yourself and your place in this big cactus desert. Specifically, what’s your individual balance of function and fashion?
- A hat is functional - it keeps off rain and sun and provides excellent UV protection when properly worn. It fits your lifestyle, and the geography of where you live.
- A hat is fashionable - it’s a part of your outfit and can complement or contrast with its colour and its style. A black hat or a white hat both have meanings that are deeply ingrained in our societies, and there are lots of colours and styles in between..
- A hat makes a statement - it’s at the top of your head. It dominates your head. It’s you.
Choosing a hat becomes a highly personal decision. That’s why Wei’s Western Wear stocks about 200 hat styles so you can choose the one that reflects your strengths and personality.
Wei’s offers one of the best selections of Western cowboy hats in Canada since 1956. When you step into Wei’s Western Wear and smell the leather from the boots, belts and biker wear, you’ll also see hats by Stetson, Resistol, Seratelli, and also Bailey, Akubra, and more.
Wei’s staff trying on Western hats at
Wei’s North store in Red Deer.
- If you want to learn more about why hats are like they are, and the crowns, creases, brims and brands, read on in Part 1.
- If you are ready to choose your hat, go to Part 2 of this blog: Choosing a Cowboy Hat that Fits, and Caring for Your Cowboy Hat
First, let’s take a step back to really appreciate the hat you’re looking at.
History of Cowboy Hats: Function and Flair
Many folks agree that the first American cowboy hat was John Stetson’s 1865 creation he called “The Boss of the Plains”. The hat was popular and dominated hat sales for several years.
Stetson Boss of the Plains hat, created in 1865.
As we can see, the hat is similar to but smaller than to the Mexican sombrero, without a peaked crown or turned-up brims. It’s almost identical to the Argentinian gaucho, a Cordovan hat from Cordoba, Spain which was worn by labourers there in the 1600s.
All hot-weather cultures we know of developed a wide-brimmed hat. It was functional, protecting from sun, wind and rain, and often included a chin strap. It usually signified rural workers, since it was worn by cowboys, farmers and field workers.
The Ancient Greek Petasos hat was worn mostly by farmers too. It was apparently made from felt, leather, or straw, and the style was passed to the Romans, who conquered much of Europe. The city of Cordoba, Spain was an important Roman outpost until about 500 AD.
Petasos hat from a Greek coin, circa 400 BC
But also, in 1275 the Italian trader Marco Polo travelled the silk road all the way to China, and from him we know Mongolian “cowboys” wore wide brimmed hats.
No doubt they adapted their hats from field workers, who wore hats made from straw, leaves, or bamboo woven tightly to keep sun and rain away, and often had a chin strap since they repeatedly bent over and stood up again.
Traditional Chinese straw hat.
Wide-brimmed field worker’s hats were present in almost every Asian culture. China, Japan, Vietnam and The Philippines all had their versions. We can see wide-brimmed hats from different sources could have influenced the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the American cowboy hat.
But as with all types of Western apparel, the basic function became more stylish. For example, the farmer’s wide brimmed hat was given a more elegant appeal with the Cavalier hat worn in the 17th Century, reflecting a Musketeer style.
The Cavalier hat, dating to around 1600 in Europe.
The Cavalier hat is still around today but its style is pretty outlandish, with one side cocked up and a large ostrich feather to adorn it. It’s hard to call it functional, since one side of you would get wet and sunburned!
It’s clear Western hats are not only about function. Hatmaking is an art form all its own.
Modern Cowboy Hat Parts and Differences
Every part of a cowboy hat is functional, or decorative, and sometimes both. Let’s explain the parts of a cowboy hat, starting at the top!
The crown of a western hat is both functional and decorative, or more precisely, reflective of the wearer’s personality. The crown naturally projects strength, which can be enhanced with a Cattleman crease in the picture above, or muted with an open crown (no crease or dent).
A cowboy hat crown is functional because it includes “air space” to allow your head to breathe. Different heights are needed to fit correctly without smothering your dome and reducing your ability to sweat.
Creases, Dents and Bashes
Honestly we do not see much difference between a crease and a dent and a bash. Let’s call them all creases here, and try to point out if they’re on the top or on the sides.
The famous Stetson “Boss of the Plains” hat was an open crown hat with no creases. Through use, the crowns became dented. Repeatedly picking up a hat in a certain way would eventually leave a crease, or a pinch, or an upturned brim.
This accidental creasing led to some hat owners experimenting and personalizing hats with their own creases. Possibly they creased their own hats to hide accidents.
At some point, hatmakers began to create intentional creases at the top and on the sides. These would hide the eventual accidental mistreatment, and start style specialization. It’s not common, but today you can still purchase an open crown hat, then ask for your own special crease.
Here are some of the most popular creases.
The Gus crease is one of the original cowboy hat creases, and it’s easy to see why. At a time when cowboys would tip their hat to ladies, they’d grab their hat crown to do this. Their hands would gradually make creases, so the Gus features 3 creases and all sloping forward.
Gus hat front view
Gus hat side view.
On the Gus, the crown is lower at the front, higher at the back. The Gus was popularized again in the 1980s, worn by actor Robert Duvall’s character Augustus Lonesome Dove TV series and is still popular today, as seen on this Stetson crushable wool hat with Gus crown.
Seratelli Cowboy hat with Cattleman crease
In Silverbelly colour.
The Cattleman crease has more widespread appeal. It’s a deep single crease down the centre of the crown, with one shallow crease (or dents, or bashes) on each side. The hat itself usually has a taller, but narrower crown typically between 4 and 5 inches tall.
The Cattleman crease is strong and traditional, and is probably Wei’s most popular style, available in several brands like Stetson, Seratetelli, Ariat, and more.
Stetson’s Explorer hat is a
Crushable wool hat with Teardrop pinch crease
The Teardrop Pinch crease is probably the second most common hat crease. It is a deep V-shaped crease with shallow front creases on each side to help with gripping the hat and contrasting the teardrop.
It is often called a Pinch Crease or simply Pinch hat, and is often seen on fedora hats. Wei’s Akubra hats look fantastic with a teardrop pinch crease.
Brick crease on an MHT felt hat
The Brick crease (sometimes called Canadian Brick) is also very popular. It’s a rectangular crease pushing down the crown, yet leaving the middle to pop up in a flatter top. From Wei’s selection of Western hats for kids and youth, here’s the brick crease in an Ariat youth-size hat.
Above, a poster from our vendor Resistol. Even this reference is incomplete, and some of the creases are named differently. The bottom line is there are dozens of creases available and more to be imagined. Some hatmakers call the same crease by different names.
Check out Wei’s Western Wear website for more choices, and do your research to find the crown and crease combination that speaks to you.
The brim, the part of the hat that spreads out and shields from sun and rain, is usually 3 to 4 inches wide on each side. Wei’s customers on the West coast like wide brimmed hats to ward off the rain, or for gardening.
Wei’s customers in the Canadian prairies or US midwest or southern states are usually more concerned about sun protection. These days, hats have sun and ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) ratings, usually in the range of 50 UPF for a hat that’s not a loose-woven straw hat. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat is good for you!
Akubra’s The Territory hat has
a 4 inch crown and 4 inch brim
Akubra’s Banjo Paterson hat has
a 4 inch crown and 2-3/4 inch brim
The width of the brim can serve to visually balance or contrast with the crown. If a cowboy hat has a 4 inch crown, then a 4 inch brim would be considered balanced. The same crown with a 3 inch brim, or a style like a traditional bowler hat, will emphasize the height of the crown a little more.
There’s lots of variation in cowboy hat brims, too. Most brims are straight, and some slope down in front. The edges are sometimes finished or bound, and turned up, called a roll. Depending on the rigidity of the material, the front of the brim may be a little ‘floppy’, more likely on crushable hats which are typically made from wool.
More about cowboy hat brims in Part 2 of this blog, when we’ll try to match hats to face types.
- Almost all western hats have air holes for ventilation to keep your head cool. Technically they are called eyelets, but we’re talking about hats not shoes, so here we’ll call them air holes.
- Air holes are usually small metal rings that are punched into the hat. They can be cut and have sewn edges but of course more labour means a higher cost.
- Most air holes are a bit smaller than a typical raindrop. Rain is great for crops and cattle, but not quite as welcome when your head gets wet.
- If a hat’s air holes are too large, they will let excessive UV rays or rain through, and then there’s not much point in having a hat, right?
- Air holes are clearly functional, but straw hats in particular are like a canvas for design, and the hatmaker gets artistic with a variety of hole patterns, sometimes creating an interplay of air holes with coloured straw. Or, a straw hat style may have a looser weave that provides ample circulation and not require air holes.
- If a hat does not have air holes, as some felt hats do not, then the sweatband has to do all the work to keep you cool.
Almost all hats have hat bands. They sit at the place where the crown ends and the brim begins, as if to emphasize that spot. Try as we might, we could not think of a functional reason for them.
We even asked Wei’s downtown store manager Chung Mah, and he confirmed it: in his opinion, “a hat band is purely decorative.”
From a white silk hatband on a dark Fedora hat to a brown leather strap on a black Cattleman hat, the look of the hatband can complement or contrast the colour or texture of the hat.
Since the hat band has such an impact on the look of the hat, you might want to change the band one day. Kind of like shaving (or growing) a beard, to try a different look for a while.
That’s why after-market hat bands exist. Want a straight band, or an undulating band? Got a black band, but want black and red? Want a leather band or a cloth band? There’s a hat band for you.
Some of the after-market hat bands stocked by Wei’s.
Wei’s stocks lots of different hat bands to suit dark coloured and light coloured hats. All of these after-market hat bands have a buckle end, like a belt. This is because they must be adjustable, to fit most hats. For this reason, some hatbands are called “buckle sets”.
It’s kind of like a “snapback” ball cap. The size is adjustable and companies say one size fits all (OSFA), or more accurately, One Size Fits Most (OSFM). So, one hat band will fit most cowboy hats, or at least up to size 7-½.
The hatband many refer to is one made by Roan leather which is a superior grade of unsplit sheepskin. They are very long-tasting.
You can’t stop your head from sweating, in fact sweating is your body’s way of trying to stay cool. So, every hat has (or should have) a sweatband. It’s literally a piece of cloth, or sometimes leather which is also absorbent, sewn inside the hat to absorb sweat generated by our warm heads. Many sweatbands also have holes in them to aid in faster evaporation and circulation.
Traditionally, cowboy hats came with chin straps to keep you hat on during a wild and windy ride, or to easily shuck off when bending.
Today, chin straps are optional. Some cowboy hats come with a chin strap, or have tiny hooks inside the hat, ready to accept an optional chin strap. But most cowboy hats do not have a chin strap and are not fitted for one.
You Choose the Style!
Wow! Cowboy hats are a grand mix of history, culture, function and style. There are so many variables to make your cowboy hat distinctive and reflect your personality and preferences.
We hope we’ve opened up your eyes to appreciating cowboy hats as much more than a wearable umbrella.
Read on to Part 2 of Almost EVerything You Wanted to Know About Cowboy Hats, where we discuss, how to assess what hat is best for your style, face, and the right quality for your budget.
Remember, if you’re looking to buy a cowboy hat in Canada or buy a cowboy hat in the USA, check our Wei’s Western wear website to see our selection.