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post Cowboy Hats

January 14th, 2009

Filed under: Interviews & Articles — admin @ 8:16 pm

Leif Erickson as John Cannon

Big John’s hat with decorative conchos on the hatband

Cowboy Hats

By Rusty

Penny has asked me to share a bit about my passion for “cowboy” hats. I’ve owned at least 15 of them over the years. The one point I have been asked several times is “how to choose a hat that fits”. Believe me, there is a trick to it.

First, choose a color you like. If you’re blonde and fair skinned, like me, a sand color is not the best choice. Most folks like a chocolate, gray or “silverbelly,” or black hat. I tend to like chocolate, and medium brown colors. Most hats come in felt or canvas with a wire brim. Although wire brims are not traditional, they are less expensive, and easier to shape to your face. I don’t recommend running out and buying a Stetson. Buy something mid-range. Staying under $100 is best. I’m not even going to mention straw hats. They’re useless to me, and I have no passion for them at all.

Cameron Mitchell

Buck has a beaded band, string of beads, and (according to the episode Bad Day for a Thirst) a rattlesnake tail on his hat

Next, the brim of the hat is crucial to having a balanced look on your head, and a width that looks appropriate with your head and shoulders. If the brim is too wide, you’ll look short and squat. If the brim is too narrow then it will give you a comical look. Old West re-enactors often prefer the “Derby” or bowler style hat. That’s not for me. The worst hat I’ve seen on a great actor is the small brimmed sandy colored hat that Randolph Scott wore in many of his Westerns. It was his favorite. Fine. But still a bad choice. Depending on whether you wear your hat for ranch chores, like me, or just for dress up, place the hat on your head then look straight up. If the hat tends to hit your shoulders and pop off your head, then the brim is too wide for your head to shoulder height. It’s a simple test but it works. Brims come in 2.5, 3.0, 3.5 inches and 4.0 inches normally. I prefer a 4.0 inch brim because I’m tall and have a longer nape of my neck.

Curling the brim is a personal choice. Some hat wearers insist on curling the brim so high and tight that it looks overdone. A slight upturn in the edge of the brim allows water to channel, and a slight dip in the front and back allows water to run off. I like flatter styling with a little down turn in the front. The flatter brim style gives you more shade in the summer. In the Mojave Desert, I need shade. Even my dog’s name was Shade but that’s a different story.

Mark Slade as Blue Cannon

Blue’s tan hat appears with a hole halfway through the second season

Now for the crown, or top of your hat. There’s a gazillion crown shapes to choose from but I’ll stick with traditional styles. Most cowboy hats were sold “open crown”, meaning no shaping. It was a cowboy’s preference to dent and pinch his crown for his own style or need. Hats were dutiful, comfortable, and stiff brimmed. Some men wore Mexican sombreros in woven straw or felt. Some liked the short brimmed bowlers with high-mounded crowns. In all, the pinch was a Gus crease down the middle front, the Montana Peak with four equal dents on a high 6-inch crown, a telescope-styled based on making a circular crease so the top of the head fit tightly into the crown, and a hand worn pinch with a forward crease and two side dents. Mostly that style was just something that happened with wear, and not necessarily a style at all. Most hats were filthy, well worn and damaged from being used so much. Individual style was shown in the hatband: ribbon, high or narrow, a horsehair braid, a leather twist with knots or braid, or a simple narrow leather band. I prefer a braid with a matching chinstrap.

One last note about selection. The size of the hat is measured by the head circumference about a finger width above the ear and continuing across the brow line. If the tag in the hat says “small, medium or large”, find another hat. You should know the size of your head to get a good fit, and then purchase hats with true sizes of 20 inches up to 26 inches. Increments of one-eighth of an inch helps get a calibrated size.

Henry Darrow as Manolito

Manolito’s hat has a flat brim

Cowboy hats, legendary hats since 1865 —
In 1865, as the cattle business began to boom, Stetson became convinced that the cowmen of the West would recognize his hat as a useful addition to his wardrobe. He began to produce the first incarnation of his ‘big hats’, originally called the Boss of the Plains, and immediately dispatched samples to potential dealers throughout the West. As they say, ‘to make a long story short, Stetson was soon inundated with orders for his unique headgear. He even attracted the attention of the Texas Rangers, who quickly became the first law-enforcement group to wear cowboy hats as part of their official uniforms.

Before long, Stetson was famous for his newfangled headwear, the cowboy hat. In those early years, whether he wore cowman’s gear or not, the cowboy hat had the unique quality of identifying its wearer as someone associated with the West, and the cattle industry. Merely by placing his new cowboy hat on his head, he became part of a growing fraternity of cowmen who carried with them an image and aura intrinsically linked to the Wild West.

Linda Cristal

Victoria wears several different hats, including her riding hat.

When shopping for a new hat, take a friend along who will tell you if you look silly, short, too tall, fat, or just right.

My personal choice is an Aussie outback oiled canvas hat with a tri-pinched front crown and a 4-inch brim. My hat is not considered traditional but there is a movement afoot to include the Sou’wester because Aussie rangemen came to America sporting their oiled hat versions prior to the popularity of cowboy hats that came in the late 1860s through the 1870s.

For more details about keeping your hat in good shape and best hat practices, go to: http://www.brimandcrown.com/hattips/

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