Thursday, November 26, 2009


Roberta C.M. DeCaprio

I think hats define the wearer and the era of the times. Growing up in a Catholic/Italian household, I remember wearing to church on Sunday the “chapel veil” during the 1960’s. The round, lacy hair adornments replaced the wide-brimmed picture hats of the 1950’s and the pill-box hats, which Jackie Kennedy made famous. So, with my thoughts on “hats” this month, I thought I’d do some research on the cowboy hat. At THE BEST COWBOY GEAR site (, this is what I learned:

A traditional cowboy prized his hat above all things - with good reason. It was often worth a month or two's wages - and that made it very expensive. The cowboy likely spent hours personalizing the hat with creases to the crown and molding the brim - that made it his. An old west cowboy would go to hell and back to retrieve a misplaced cowboy hat and it was seldom further than an arm's length away.

There were several styles throughout history, as well as the individuals or circumstances that defined them. Here are a few:

THE ROUGH RIDER (Crown: center trench/Brim hand rolled, Open hatband: 1" Satin with 1898 bow) was worn by Teddy Roosevelt, who called these short 4 months in 1898 the most exciting of his life; culminating in leading his "Rough Riders" up San Juan Hill in that storied charge. If you look at any picture of the US Expeditionary Force, you'll see almost as many brim and crown treatments of the same basic hat as there are soldiers. Teddy’s hat was based on the originals worn by the US Cavalry, which included the traditional military style side bow on the hat band.

THE 1898 CAMPAIGN HAT, the enlisted man’s issue (Crown: 4 pinch peak Brim: Flat - Open Hatband: 1/2" Satin with bow). The Spanish–American War was a conflict between Spain and the United States of America from April to August 1898. It heralded the emergence of America as a world power and climaxed with Teddy Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba.

THE TEN GALLON HAT is a legendary slang from the old west - this is a common term for a very large cowboy hat, the idea being you could carry ten gallons of water in it for your horse. Well, the 10 gallon hat doesn't exist - simple as that. This was a misinterpretation by Texas Cowboys of the Spanish word, "galón." that Mexican Vaqueros used to describe the narrow, braided trimming they used to decorate the crowns of their hats. In reality the largest cowboy hat crown would barely hold one gallon of water, and any hat that would hold 10 gallons, would be so large and unwieldy that it'd be un-wearable.

THE WASEY (Crown: Three Dent Modified SagebrushBrim: Open Hatband: 1" Satin with Bow) had a modified Sagebrush shaped crown and was one of the most common of the first few decades of the 20th century. Crown shape was first seen in the 1890s. Cowboys wore this hat while hunting.

THE HICKOCK (Crown: Texas Straight; Brim: Pencil Roll Bound Hatband: 2" Satin with Bow) is another version of the Boss of the Plains – and the best guess on what James Butler Hickock or Wild Bill circa 1875 wore.

OLD TEXAS (Crown: Texas Straight Brim: Kettle Curl OpenHatband: 1"multi-colored burlap). Some variation of this design was seen on almost all the actors, in the remake of John Wayne's "Alamo", starring Billy Bob Thornton, and others. This traditional Texas look for a Cowboy Hat was the precursor of the Boss of the Plains, and was well known in the Texas of the 1830s and onward.

DIRTY TROOPER (Crown: Creased and Pinched. Back has a "Mule Kick" indentation. Brim: Hand worked Open Hatband: Satin Ribbon) This cavalry hat is the classic look sported by the US Cavalry in the later quarter of the 19th Century. Originally the hat was a sand color, but the color faded from constant exposure to the sun (better your hat, then your skin and eyes).

NORTHWEST PEAK (Crown: 4 pinch peak Brim: Hand shaped Open Hatband: Braided Leather) This 4 pinch peak was first shown in the Northwest in the 1880s. Today most working State Troopers wear a version of this crown, and of course the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Up until the turn of the 20th Century most cowboy hats were sold in Mail Order Catalogues. In those days if the local haberdasher didn't have the hat you wanted - he likely had a catalogue to order one from. The first cowboy hats were all made from 100% beaver fur-felt, natural and undyed, and worth their weight in gold to working cowboys and most all other Westerners.

The Montgomery Ward Catalogue of 1872 was the first to offer a "Western Sombrero" for sale to the public. Most hats were shipped with un-creased crowns, and little shape to the brim. Manufacturers knew the cowboys wanted to personalize the hat themselves - so they shipped unfinished. Remember Hoss from Bonanza and his big dang hat? That was the most authentic old west hat any of the Bonanza cast wore.


Celia Yeary said...

Roberta--western hats are so often misconstrued in our novels, I think, especially in the 1800's. The hats the cowboys actually wore weren't all that sexy--think Lonesome Dove. It's a tricky thing. I appreciate your research about the hats, and I recognize them. If we're putting a description to a hat in a book,it can be very misleading. I usually just say "hat." Duh. Thanks! Celia

Tanya Hanson said...

Great post, Roberta. I watched Tombstone again last night and the Earp boys' hats looked pretty authentic imo. I tend to say big-brimmed in description because I think they were.

I enjoyed this very much!

And I was so sad whtn Montgomery Ward stores closed...the oldest retailer in the U.S.

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Enjoyed the post, Roberta. It's a good research article. Thanks for the info.

Cioara Andrei said...

Foarte interesant subiectul postat de tine. M-am uitat pe blogul tau si imi place ce am vazut.Cu siguranta am sa il mai vizitez.
O zi buna!

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Paty Jager said...

Fun information, Roberta.

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