Sep 22, 2023

The Best Cowboy Hats for Your Budding Western Wardrobe

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It's never been easier to buy a good hat — and online, too. Here's what you need to know and where to shop from.

In an open plain, where there's no shade to block the beating sun, a cowboy hat proves essential (along with a pair of cowboy boots and the right work pants). Cowboy hats, with their taller crowns and wide brims, protect the wearer from the sun but also rain or snow, dust and wind, and other debris.

Nowadays, though, they're just as much a style statement as they are a shield. Cowboy hats are a staple on city streets, at concerts and music festivals and every few bars, too. They're no longer relegated to the ranch.

Cowboy hats are generally considered an evolution of the crowned sombrero, which Mexican Cowboys, known as Vaqueros, wore. They were wide-brimmed, sat similarly on the head and were a way to keep the sun, but also wind, dirt and other debris, from reaching your brow.

But the first official cowboy hat came in 1865, courtesy of Stetson. The lightweight, all-weather hat — nicknamed the Boss of the Plains — was a Beatnik-style design with a flat brim and an open crown. This was cowboy style, mainstreamed, and custom orders (plus actual use) introduced features like the pinch, crease and bent brim. Personalized twists were easy, especially since felt fabric becomes malleable when exposed to steam. You can shape it until it cools.

The most ideal Western hats are made from fur felt crafted from pure beaver. Felt hats prove capable of protecting the wear from wind, rain and snow, both because it's warm and water resistant.

Pure beaver felt can be a little pricy, which is why cheaper alternatives are fashioned from wool felt.

For sun protection with built-in breathability, many opt for straw hats, which are made from natural palm. It's a lighter material that's typically constructed with an open weave.

If you've ever bought a fitted lid before, whether a baseball one from New Era or a fedora from some fine hat maker, you know how measurements go. The range starts at 6 or 6 1/2 and runs all the way up to 8, usually, and sizes outside this spectrum must be special ordered.

A size 6 works on someone with a 20-inch circumference head. An 8, on the other hand, is for someone with a 25-inch noggin.

Cowboy hats come with different crowns and features — a.k.a pinches (or creases). It's where you grab the hat to put it on or take it off, hence the name; it's where you pinch it to pick it up. Different ones serve different purposes, but we'll point them out when they appear.

Tall crowns, for example, were for riders who wanted to ensure the hat would stay on their head. They'd push them down when the wind picked up. A pronounced pinch, on the other hand, doesn't offer much vertical room inside the hat. That means it fits one way and one way only.

The most popular pinch is the Cattleman, which you'll find employed on hats from Stetson, Greeley Hat Works, Burns 1876 and a bunch of others.

Just as baseball caps come with curved or flat brims, cowboy hats are offered in myriad shapes. But unlike curved and flat, there are far more names: Half-Taco, George and U are all names for the same style, which has a flat front and high, pointed edges.

The easiest way to identify a brim is by its front, though. There are pointed, round, flat, wide and extra-wide fronts, and they generally dictate the shape of the rest of the brim, if they follow tradition, that is.

It's hard not to point to Yellowstone when discussing the cowboy hat's comeback. It's the most popular show on television, and many of the cast members are wearing custom-made pieces. That being said, there are a number of ready-made styles, too, from Stetson, Greeley Hat Works, Burns 1876 and others.

If you can't get one custom-made, commit to trial and error. Step into a shop — try some hats on; explore different pinches; swap a hat with a curved brim for one that's nearly flat. You won't know what works well on you (and with your wardrobe) until you get out and experiment (or earn one as a gift or through joining... a particular workforce.)

Tecovas doesn't just make boots. The established Western brand is expanding fast from ready-made boots and shoes to hats, jackets and jeans, too. The Ranchman is a high-quality hat with a printed satin liner, substantial brim and well-known pinch. It comes in its own protective box, too, and fits in from the first wear, despite being from a relatively new brand.

While there are pre-made versions of this hat available elsewhere, if you order your Competitor Hat from Greeley Hat Works, you can choose from a number of pinches (aka creases), brim shapes, sweatbands, liners, trims and beyond. You can truly get your own custom hat, decked out to your liking... in 7-9 months.

Sure, it takes a while, but Greeley Hat Works is no joke. They've been featured on Yellowstone, made custom hats for the show and are now reaping the benefits of silver screen exposure.

Stetson is the Levi's of cowboy hats. Sure, there were ones before them, but they commercialized it. As such, they're still a go-to source, especially considering its first iteration released in 1865. (8 years before Levi's 501 came out.)

The Corral 4X is appropriately sized, stylish and a money-saver — it's just $150 versus the $700+ Greeley design, for example. The pinch is iconic; it comes in two colors; but the material is wool felt, not fur. There's a satin liner, too, with a silver buckle band, and Stetson hat box. Best of all, it was made in the USA.

Designed for country star George Strait, Resistol's Ocho Rios hat has a standard crown, wide, curved brim and soft satin liner. It's an oatmeal, kind-of-cappuccino color with a leather band and a special Resistol pin. You can choose from three creases, because while this is from Strait's line, he has no signature style — just a stable of iterations he flips through.

Burns supplied a number of hats to costumers on Yellowstone, which is how we first learned about the brand. It was initially through its boots, which are a favorite of actor Luke Grimes, at least off screen: "I have some friends at this company called Burns — it's a family-owned company that makes really really good, high end, very expensive, quality cowboy boots — which are great if you want to spend the money on something that you're gonna have for life."

You'll have their hats for life, too. And they may even make you a convertor. "I never had the cowboy style before, but it was always sort of rural and blue collar," Grimes explains. This standard brown hat goes with just about anything, and can come in a 100 percent rabbit, 50-50 rabbit-beaver and 100 percent beaver finishes.

Straw hats make a ton of sense, especially when the alternative is fur or wool. They'll keep you cool in a hot climate or when your work involves more than just walking from the porch to the barn. This option from Ariat is par for the course: it's made from natural palm, finished with a cattleman pinch and set with a standard brim.

Seager's standard-crown cowboy hat recalls the one Clint Eastwood wore in several of his 1960's Western cinemas. It's unisex, too, which means it works on most heads, even with its fairly flat shape, both at the brim and crown levels. There's a ribbon band, too, for a decorative touch, but you can enhance it in any way you see fit.