Recently, I received a question:
I was asked to attend an event in Oklahoma that will definitely involve cowboy gear. I was told that I should buy a cowboy hat. Do you have any advice for choosing a hat? Thanks for your help!
I realized that I have not written any posts about “cowboy” anything in a long time, so thanks for the opportunity to write about something else with which I have experience. Read on…
While I live in Maryland, a state not known for cowboys to western hats, I grew up in Oklahoma, and still have family who live there. This is what I said in reply to this email question:
These days, most real cowboys in Oklahoma wear ballcaps. But the traditional Stetson or Resistol are often seen, too.
The time of the year affects the choice of the hat.
Since Oklahoma gets very hot from May through October, most guys who wear a traditional western hat wear one made of straw during those months, not felt.
The felt western hat is work when it is cool or cold, from November through April.
Guys notice quality (or cheap), so get a hat rated 5x or better. Hats rated lower appear cheap. They also notice brands and can tell a brand from the appearance without even looking at a label. So get Stetson or Resistol. These are the best, long-term brands out there.
Depending on the shape of your face and body type, there are hats that look better. If you can, try on several and look at yourself in a mirror. The pinch and dent should be moderate. (See photo of parts of a cowboy hat).
The height of the crown should be proportional to your physical height. For example, if you are 5-foot 8-inches (172cm) or shorter, choose a hat with crown of 4 inches (10cm) or less. If you are between 5′ 9″ and 6′ 3″ or so (172 to 190cm), a traditional crown height of 4.5 inches works. Taller? Then a taller crown is okay.
Should you get a band or ribbon to wrap around the crown? Most cowboys do not wear one. I do; my choice. I like the contrasting decorative aesthetic. But I don’t go overboard.
Also, watch the size of the brim. A brim of 4 inches (11.5cm) or less is considered normal. Brims wider than 4 inches look like a sombrero and you’ll get laughed at.
Fit: the fit of a hat is critical. You don’t want it so big that it sits on your head and comes down over your eyes, or so narrow/small that it won’t fit and hold on your head and fly off at the slightest puff of wind. Using a tape, wrap it across the top of your head just above your ears and across the forehead. A hat size such as 7-1/8 is determined by the inches around your head, measured to the nearest eighth of an inch. This video may help.
Color: most guys wear “silverbelly” which is the most traditional color of a traditional western hat. They don’t wear a pure white hat except in a parade, or a black hat except at funerals.
These choices are based on norms that I observe when I visit family on our horse farm in Oklahoma. But you can decide what you like and what fits you.
Whatever western hat you get, don’t just wear it as a costume while in Oklahoma. Make it your signature, and wear it when you get back home, like I do (sometimes)!
Life is short: western hats are cool.