purpose of the cowboy hat

The Cowboy Hat – The Purpose of Western Garb

The Cowboy Hat

“Billy the Kid wearing a top hat” By Ben Wittick (1845-1903) [Public domain], via Commons.

Unlike much fashion of today, Western Wear didn’t evolve on the basis of form, but rather function. Here we look at how the demands of the Old West defined the function of the cowboy hat, and ultimately its iconic form.

Before the invention of the cowboy hat, cowboys wore whatever they had or could get their hands on, such as a bowler, top hat, derby, or Civil War hat. Famous outlaw Billy the Kid is best known for wearing a top hat.

The broad-brimmed hat concept was borrowed from the Mexican sombrero worn by vaqueros. The invention of the first real cowboy hat is credited to John B. Stetson, who created the “Boss of the Plains.”

This hat, with its high crown and wide brim, set the standard for all cowboy hats. Read more about the history of John B. Stetson, master hatter.

So, we know the history, but what is a cowboy hat for? Well, that question has many answers, because the cowboy uses his hat for many purposes:

  • It protects the wearer from the elements: The intensity of the sun, blowing wind, driving rain, and the cold, biting snow.
  • It can be used to pull water from a stream for the wearer, or his horse.
  • It can be useful for directing attention, either by signaling to other ranch hands or by swatting a horse or steer.

In fact, the style of one’s cowboy hat has even been used to portray one’s ideology. Read here how political persuasions and region were once revealed by the shape of a cowboy hat’s crown.

Back to Western Garb – A History