You know you’re in Texas when you see the cowboy hats. They have been associated with the Lone Star State since John B. Stetson produced his first hat 150 years ago this year.
Stetson started production in 1865, with a $100 in capital, and the factory in Garland, Texas, now supplies the world. Men’s hats dropped out of fashion worldwide during the 1960s, driven by changing men’s hair styles and the arrival of the motor car, but Texas remains a place where men still wear them in everyday life. They are a serious business and Stetson and a few other U.S.-made brands remain the hats of choice.
In Texas, a fake western hat will be spotted a block away. Serious money is paid for the top of the range styles, which will last a lifetime, although the average wearer may have several hats. Prices depend mainly on the quality of the felt used to make them, with beaver or buffalo fur proving the best protection from rain, or the tightness of the straw weave. The “X” rating is the best guide to quality, although inflation has set in and different manufacturers use different standards. Stetson originally went no higher than 5X in the 1930s but the same hat today might well be marked 100X.
Felt hats were worn in winter, and straw in summer, with wide brims being a year-round protection from the sun. The further south you go in North America, the wider the brim, with Mexico taking things to what might be deemed excess. Higher crowns trap warm air and were originally worn in colder regions, which also influenced the style of hat. These localised styles have now more or less disappeared, except in descriptions by manufacturers, as have the seasonal differences.
A real cowboy still takes his hat off in the presence of a lady
If you do wear a hat, there are some etiquette tips you need to know. It used to be polite to take your hat off when entering a building and when eating, but the loss of hat check girls and hat racks means this is no longer a rule. No one wants to put a hat that costs hundreds of dollars on a seat or greasy countertop. However, a real cowboy will still take it off in the presence of a lady, or in church. One last important rule: never touch another cowboy’s hat. That’s asking for trouble.
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