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Western Etiquette: The Cowboy Hat

“Don’t ever mess with a Cowboy’s, or cowgirl’s, hat!”

Conk-case. Lid. War-bonnet.

Ten-gallon. Stetson.

Cowboy Hat. Named the official hat for the State of Texas in 2015, I’ve listed a few do’s and don’ts about proper cowboy hat etiquette and practical uses.

Do’s and Don’ts plus a Few Practical Uses

  • Always remove your lid when you meet a lady for the first time.
  • Always take your hat off during the National Anthem or Pledge of Allegiance.
  • A cowboy hat makes the perfect water container for your horse.
  • DO remove your hat when entering a place of worship.
  • Rest your cowboy hat on it’s top crown, upside down. It’s better for maintaining the shape of the brim and keeps your luck from running out.
  • Cowboy hats can be used as a fan for campfire flames.
  • When swatted against a thigh, it’s a useful tool to motivate stubborn livestock.
  • Do add a feather or rattlesnake rattles to the LEFT side for good luck.
  • A wide-brimmed cowboy hat shields a rider’s neck and face from sun, rain or snow
  • Smaller brims allow a rider to swing a rope over his head.
  • Never lay your cowboy hat on a bed, which might bring on bad luck or injury.
  • Keep the hat ON if it’s an informal occasion.
  • Do remove the hat for a formal occasion.
  • When sitting down at a table for a meal, the hat should come off unless there is nowhere to safely lay the hat.
  • When sitting down at a counter or at a fast food place, the hat can stay on your head. 
  • Out on the range however, keep your hat on while you eat.
  • Don’t mess with another man’s hat! Never, ever touch a cowboy’s hat without permission.

The cowboy hat with wide brim and pinched crown remains a universal image of the working cowboy. If you put one on your head, you’ll feel taller, perhaps a little more adventurous and definitely braver. In a fraction of a second, you suddenly become part of the golden age of the American West.

“10-gallon” refers to how much liquid could be carried in that deep, wide-brimmed hat that Hollywood seemed to favor, even though a really large hat could only hold about a few quarts. As with the majority of the skills and tools used by the American cowboy, the Mexican vaquero may have had an influence on the term. One theory proposed that the name is a corruption of the Spanish phrase “tan galán” —roughly translated as “very gallant” or “handsome”. We all know that is the perfect term to describe the majestic image of a hat-wearing cowboy sitting tall in the saddle.

Boss of the Plains. Stetson.

With a smaller brim than the sombrero, John Stetson made his design more practical for the western lifestyle and climate. Suited for hotter climates of the west, Stetson’s original design dates back to 1865 and had a four inch crown, four inch flat brim and cost $5 bucks. As popularity grew, production was established in Philadelphia and throughout its history, about 3,300,000 felt hats were produced making John B. Stetson the largest hat maker in the world.

Over the years, the Stetson has maintained its reputation for exceptional quality. Remaining unchanged from the basic 1865 design, these western style hats are worn today by the Texas Rangers, National Park Service employees, and US Calvary soldiers. Today it’ll set you back about $145 bucks.

John Batterson Stetson called his 1865 creation “Boss of the Plains”

“You’ll ride a black tornado ‘cross the western sky

You’ll rope an ol’ blue northern, and milk it ’til it’s dry

Bulldog the Mississippi and pin its ears down flat

Long before you take this cowboy’s hat”

Chris LeDoux, “This Cowboy’s Hat”
Cowboy Sean Kennedy. Pic by N. Bright.

Today you can find a wide variety of styles and colors made by American hat makers, including Stetson, Resistol and the American Hat Company. Whichever style you choose, the cowboy hat remains an iconic symbol of the American West.

Natalie Cline Bright is an blogger, speaker, and author of fiction and nonfiction books for kids and adults.

 Visit Natalie Bright’s Amazon Author Page to learn more.