The cowboy hat, also known as the "Stetson" or the "ten-gallon hat," is an iconic piece of headwear that has become synonymous with the rugged spirit of the American West. This distinctive hat has transcended its practical origins and evolved into a cultural symbol, representing the values of freedom, independence, and the untamed frontier.

Origins and History Early Influences

The earliest cowboy hats can be traced back to the wide-brimmed hats worn by Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) in the 13th century. These hats, known as sombreros, were designed to provide shade and protection from the sun while working on the ranches. As European settlers moved westward across the American frontier in the 1800s, they adopted and adapted the sombrero style, creating what became known as the "cowboy hat."

The Birth of the Modern Cowboy Hat

In 1865, John B. Stetson, a hat maker from Philadelphia, designed the "Boss of the Plains" hat after a trip to the West. Made of fur felt and featuring a wide, curved brim and a tall, rounded crown, this design provided excellent protection from the elements and quickly became popular among cowboys and ranchers. Stetson's design is credited with creating the first "Boss of the Plains" hat, which became an instant hit and transformed into the iconic cowboy hat we know today.

Practical Features of the Cowboy Hat

Beyond its iconic appearance, the cowboy hat boasts several practical features that made it a favorite among cowboys and ranchers:

Evolution and Regional Variations

Over time, the cowboy hat evolved, with different regions and cultures influencing its style. The vaqueros of the Southwest preferred a taller crown for more shade, while the buckaroos of the Great Basin favored a flatter hat that wouldn't interfere with their lasso work. Cowboys also began customizing their hats, creasing the crowns and curling the brims to suit their preferences.

Materials and Construction

Early cowboy hats were made from fur felt, typically beaver or rabbit, but later versions incorporated wool felt and even straw for warmer climates. The construction techniques and materials used in cowboy hats evolved to improve durability, water resistance, and breathability, catering to the demands of the rugged outdoor lifestyle.

Cultural Significance and Fashion

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the cowboy hat gained cultural significance, becoming a symbol of the rugged individualism and pioneering spirit of the American West. It was immortalized in Western movies, literature, and popular culture, further cementing its iconic status.

Today, the cowboy hat is not just a functional piece of headwear but also a fashion statement and a representation of American heritage. It comes in various styles, materials, and designs, catering to different tastes and preferences.

Popular Cowboy Hat Styles

  1. Cattleman Crease: The classic style with a tall, rounded crown featuring a distinctive crease along the center and two slanted creases on each side. The brim is curved slightly upwards.

  2. Brick Crease: A variation of the Cattleman style, featuring a rectangular crease along the crown instead of the traditional slanted creases.

  3. Gambler: Also known as the Pencil Roll, this style features a tall, flat crown and a wide, flat brim, popularized by gamblers and card players in the Old West.

  4. Open Crown: One of the earliest styles, the Open Crown or Boss of the Plains has a smooth, rounded crown without any creases and a flat or slightly curved brim.

  5. Gus: Named after the character Gus McCrae from the TV miniseries "Lonesome Dove," this style features a tall, sloping crown with three deep creases and a curved brim.

Cowboy Hat Brands

Several renowned brands have become synonymous with quality cowboy hats, known for their craftsmanship and commitment to preserving the heritage of the American West:

Other notable brands include Ariat, Justin, Bailey, Charlie 1 Horse, Atwood Hat Company, Bullhide, Greeley Hat Works, Cavender's, and JW Brooks.

Cowboy Hats for Women

Many popular cowboy hat brands offer styles specifically designed for women, catering to their fashion preferences and functional needs. Some popular cowgirl hat styles include:

How to Wear a Cowboy Hat

Properly wearing a cowboy hat involves considering factors like fit, positioning, shaping, etiquette, handling, and styling:

  1. Get the right fit: Ensure the hat fits snugly without being too tight or loose.

  2. Position it correctly: The front should face forward, with the hat sitting level on the head.

  3. Shape and crease it: Gently shape the crown and curl the brim to your desired style for a personalized look.

  4. Remove it when indoors: Out of respect, remove the hat when entering a building, except in elevators, lobbies, or if there's no safe place to set it down.

  5. Handle it by the crown: Grasp the hat by the crown, not the brim, to preserve its shape.

  6. Pair it with the right outfit: Complement the hat with boots, jeans, a tucked-in shirt, and a belt for a cohesive Western aesthetic.

  7. Wear it with confidence: Embrace your personal style and wear the hat proudly.

Caring for Your Cowboy Hat

Proper care is essential to maintain the appearance and longevity of your cowboy hat:

Shaping Your Cowboy Hat S

haping a cowboy hat involves using steam and manual manipulation to achieve the desired brim and crown style:

Cowboy Hat Creases

The crown crease is an essential aspect of customizing and "breaking in" a cowboy hat. Popular crease styles include:


The cowboy hat, with its rich history and cultural significance, remains an enduring symbol of the American West. From its practical origins to its evolution as a fashion statement, the cowboy hat continues to captivate enthusiasts and embody the spirit of freedom, independence, and rugged individualism. By understanding the various styles, proper wearing techniques, and care methods, anyone can confidently embrace this iconic piece of headwear and pay homage to the timeless legacy of the cowboy.

Richard Sutherland

Richard is a western lifestyle author for Bits N' Spurs, the weekly newsletter that keeps pace with today's rodeo. His articles are featured on dozens of rodeo and Western related websites and provide a window to the world of cowboy culture.