6 Immutable Laws of the Cowboy Hat
Ever wondered how to wear a cowboy hat? Here are a few rules on what and what not to do…
Your hat’s “restful stance”
Rest It Properly
You know how you prefer to kick back on the couch with your feet up in your “restful stance?” Your cowboy hat has a “restful stance” too. You never want to set it down on a flat surface with the brim-side down.
Why? Well, hats have a memory. If you constantly store your hat with the brim resting on a flat surface, the shape will slowly start to change and the brim will get pushed up in certain places where it makes contact with the table, counter or dresser.
Always “rest” your hat with the crown on the bottom. The crown is stiffer than the brim and tends to hold its shape better.
Keep it on Your Head
Most first-time hat buyers end up with a hat that’s too big. They don’t realize that hats should be tight – sometimes on the verge of being uncomfortably tight.
When I take my straw hat off after wearing it all day I have a noticeable red spot on my forehead where it grips my skull. Hats expand with heat, so if your hat is tight, it will loosen up on a warm day when you are sweating. Hopefully it’s tight enough when you buy it to stay on regardless.
Felt hats tend to stay on better than straw hats, especially in the wind, so they don’t have to be quite as tight. And hats also conform to your head over time, so even if it doesn’t feel quite right on your head at first, it will likely adjust.
The reason for the tight hat is simple. When you are riding, whether at a rodeo or out trailing cows on a ranch, the last thing you want is to be getting off your horse every five minutes chasing that fancy new hat. It’s not just an inconvenience, it’s also downright problematic. If you have a herd of cows bunched up and you have to go chasing after your hat, your whole operation will crumble down around you. Plus, a brand new hat can look worn out in a hurry after being blown across the Nevada desert.
My dad feels so strongly about the importance of keeping ones hat on ones head, that he has been known to tell his cutting horse customers that if their hat falls off while they are competing, they will receive an automatic 60 (the lowest score you can get). I know a few have actually believed him. Which brings up another unrelated point…read the RULE BOOK people, but I digress.
Your final option for keeping your hat on without squeezing your melon so tightly is to add a stampede string. Just note, that you will rarely see a stampede string on a rodeo cowboy and I think there are a lot of traditional cowboys that have a hard time drilling holes in their hat for the string. That being said, if you are comfortable with it, go for it. It is a far better alternative than chasing your hat through the sagebrush.
One final note on keeping your hat on, pay attention to the brim size. Especially with straw hats, if you have a big 6″ brim, you better be somewhere where the weather patterns do not include wind. A wide brim is great for keeping the sun off, but if you are trailing cows in Southwestern Montana, the wind will make your hat into a flying saucer in no time flat.
Never Set it on the Bed
This may be more of a superstition than a hard and fast rule, per se, but I know some folks who would sooner chew off their arm than allow this to happen.
It is well-known in the rodeo world that if your hat is set on the bed, usually by someone other than you, that you might as well turn out (basically pull out out of the rodeo) that day because the cards are stacked against you in a big way.
Now, there are rituals that may be performed to reverse the damning effects of “hat on the bed,” and they vary depending on geography, heritage, and how much you actually believe in all this nonsense. But one practice that I am familiar with is the “spit, throw, and stomp” method.
Step 1: Spit in the hat.
Step 2: Throw the hat on the ground.
Step 3: Stomp on the hat.
Personally, I think I would have a hard time stomping on a perfectly good hat, but to each his own. Apparently, the ritual releases the bad “ju ju” and you are back in the game.
Keep Your Hands on Your Own Hat
Cowboys are darn serious when it comes to their hats. Basically, don’t mess with a hat that doesn’t belong to you. If you are itching to pick a fight, the fastest way to do it is to knock the hat off a cowboy’s head. But I really wouldn’t recommend it.
It should go without saying that you don’t wear another man’s hat. Accept, on the very rare occasion when you show up to the rodeo after the airline loses all your luggage and for some reason your hat was in there instead of on your head. Then it is perfectly acceptable for your buddy to offer his hat to you and for you to wear it.
Now, there is one final caveat to be noted when it comes to removing and or wearing another man’s hat. And that applies when the remover or wearer of said hat is a woman. Many guys are probably still going to be a little annoyed unless the woman is extremely attractive. But, I was always told that if a woman puts a man’s hat on her head, she is sending him a message that she plans on removing more of his attire at a later time.
The Bow Goes to the Back
This is a simple one, but oh, so important. The little bow inside your hat’s sweatband indicates the rear of your hat. Not unlike the tag in the back of your shirt. A cowboy hat has a distinctive front and back. People who are familiar with cowboy hats can tell within a millisecond whether you are wearing yours correctly.
However, they may not share that information with you.
You know how it is…when you see someone with their zipper down…do I tell them and save them additional future embarrassment by embarrassing them in the moment…at the same time admitting I was looking “down there?”
Your Hat Tells Your Story
There is perhaps no other item of cowboy attire that is more telling than a man’s hat. Dyed-in-the-wool western folks can look at a cowboy hat and know instantly whether the wearer is a bull rider, rancher, buckaroo, or stockbroker. The characteristics detected by the eye including shape, material, wear, cleanliness, and color race through the brain in a fraction of a second producing an output that can only be described as judgement. It might go something like this:
I spy with my little eye a spotless flat-brim hat, gray, with a telescoping crown and a beaded edge.
The flat brim and telescoping crown scream “Buckaroo” in a big way. This is intentional.
The word “buckaroo” comes from the word “vaquero” because many of the first cowboys in America were Spanish and white guys had a hard time pronouncing it correctly. The highest density of this cowboy subculture exists in the Great Basin region of Northern Nevada and California. The buckaroo embraces the early vaquero traditions, including the way he trains his horse and the way he snags a calf’s hind legs in the branding trap at the end of a 50′ length of rope. You’ll often find him braiding rawhide and rolling his own cigarettes. And of course, wearing a flat brim hat with a telescoping crown.
Now, back to this hat.
Without ever opening his mouth, I know this man identifies with the early traditions, or at least wants to present himself that way. I know that he cares about the way he looks when he goes to town.
I never actually mentioned where I spotted him, but let’s just say it’s at a rodeo or horse show or something like that. The context actually does matter because if he is on a ranch, my brain will take that into account as well.
The fact that his hat looks brand new leads me to narrow my judgement to two conclusions, either A.) This guy does not do any actual work in his hat because it’s too clean. Therefore this is probably not a working cowboy or B.) This guy likes to dress up to go into town and he’s wearing his “good” hat.
Now, the characteristic of the hat that leads me to my final conclusion is the beaded edge. That tells me that this guy does not make a living as a cowboy and probably is “more hat than cattle.” Why? Because a beaded edge isn’t really practical for a hat that gets a lot of wear (the beads might eventually come off). And chances are, even if it’s his “good hat,” it will eventually end up in the “working hat” rotation at some point. Not always the case, but often times it is.
I say all this to say, even if you don’t realize it , your hat is telling a story. And the person who is reading it, probably isn’t even conscious that he is doing it. Sometimes his judgment is spot-on. Other times, once he actually talks to the person, he realizes that he was completely off the mark.
So, when you go to buy a hat, know the story you want it to tell based on your personality and aspirations. But when you open your mouth, just be you.
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