By Julie Carter
It was black, floppy, completely misshapen and the brim had torn away from the crown in a few places. The hat band was long gone and so was the sweat band inside.
The boy was only 4-years-old, but already he identified his look with that sad looking little “cowboy” hat. He’d outgrown his first one, the one with an actual shape and look of a cowboy hat. It didn’t have time to wear out but then it also didn’t get the high mileage that its successor endured.
I wasn’t quite sure if he would ever part with that pathetic excuse for a cowboy hat but I vowed it would have a decent burial as soon as he gave it up. Offers to kidnap it were considered, but I knew it would just come crawling home.
There were not many days in his early years that he didn’t have some sort of hat on his head. The occasional cap sufficed when the wind made that a better choice.
At the onset of his teen years, a cap that stated an allegiance for a sports team or matched his camouflage wardrobe garnered equal time with the classic cowboy version.
Similar to the day he deemed he was too cool to allow his mother to cut his hair and instead insisted on a barber, the same professional touch is now required for the shaping of a new felt hat. It has almost made me yearn for that original piece of limp felt that passed for a hat so long ago.
Giving credence to the priority of a hat in a cowboy’s life, much has been written about the reverence required for it. There is an aura of authority that comes with the man in a cowboy hat. United States presidents have worn them, even when it was followed by the “all hat, no cattle” insult.
The cowboy hat exudes power and macho like no other piece of clothing. Those with the ability to do so, keep a special “wedding and funeral” hat, usually the once-in-a-lifetime buy off the top shelf.
While created to be, and remains so today, a functional, utilitarian piece of a cowboy’s wardrobe, his hat is almost as individually identifying as his name. The sport of rodeo produced a fashion in hats with event-specific shapes to them. A bull rider’s hat has a completely different style to it than a roper’s or a bronc rider’s.
Ranchers, cattle buyers and stockmen also maintain a uniqueness of style when it comes to the style of their hats. There is also the territory-specific look of cowboy hats. Nevada buckaroos are clearly discernible from a cowboy working the brush in south Texas, or the hot plains of eastern New Mexico and West Texas.
Hats are endlessly useful. Horses have been known to drink from hats, as well as get swatted on the behind when needed or “fanned” with them after a successful bronc ride. Passing the hat to collect money for a specific purpose is part of the culture.
A sweat-stained hat that will stay with you through rain, wind, snow and sun is a valuable tool. Women who have “cowboyed” enough to have their own sweat-stained hats are given all the room they need in a group of cowboys.
Cowboys of all ages are attached to their hats. They will get in a fight over them and at the same time, adhere to an age-old superstition that laying it on the bed brings all kinds of bad mojo.
Take a good look at the man and his hat. You’ll find a relationship that parallels his standards in life. And like the man that he is, it evolved over time, from the little boy notion of “good enough” to the desire for proper perfection.