We all recognize it as iconic, and the sight of it inevitably inspires a sense of freedom, determination, and grit. The cowboy hat. How often do we consider where such symbols come from? When I was a kid I never even thought to ask, I just knew three essential truths about wearing a cowboy hat:
- Never touch someone’s hat without permission
- Always set your hat down crown first to save the shape of your brim
- When you put that hat on, you are putting on the responsibility of acting like the cowboy/girl that you were born to be
But when was the cowboy hat invented, anyway? And why? Well, people on horseback have been wearing broad-brimmed hats as far away as Mongolia and as long ago as the 13th century; they are simply a practical necessity for the lifestyle. Nowadays, cowboy hats come in all shapes, materials, and styles. So what bridged the gap between then and now? Or, rather, who? His name was John Batterson Stetson, and the hat was called “Boss of the Plains”. It hit the market in 1865… just in time to replace sombreros and bowler hats during the booming cattle drive era, and that was when it became the recognizable silhouette we know today.
The brim kept the face and neck from getting sunburned, the tall crown kept the top of the head cool during hot cattle drives, and the felt material was high quality and could last through a good deal of hard abuse.
In fact, Stetson Hat Company had an ad that ran in 1924 which showed a horse drinking from his cowboy’s hat to boast that their material was of such fine quality their hats could hold water. Some people think that’s where the expression ‘ten-gallon hat’ came from, but in reality, an average Stetson hat probably holds about 3 quarts of water.
Linguistically, the expression is derived from one of two Spanish phrases. Mexican vaqueros wore braided hatbands called ‘galóns’ in Spanish, and a ‘10 galón’ hat may have been a hat that had a tall enough crown for 10 hatbands. Or the name is a corruption of ‘tan galán’, which roughly translates from Spanish as ‘very gallant’ or ‘really handsome’. It might have been used to describe the hat.
Or the cowboy.
Because, let’s face it, after all these years, they still look really cool. Nothing quite tops the sight of a cowboy pulling his hat down to shade his eyes against the bright mountain sun, and I can hardly describe the comfort my hat has given me while burrowing into my slicker while the cold rain made a waterfall off the front and onto my horse’s neck.
From country singers to modern westerns, cowboy hats are still very much in vogue for the style if not for the practicality of wearing one while horseback riding. If you don’t want to pack one on the airplane, you can always buy one at the Latigo gift shop or borrow one from our stash of ‘loaners’ at the barn when you’re here for an epic summer vacation.
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