The History of the Cowboy Hat


When you think of cowboys, the first thing that will come to your mind is their iconic hat that comes in different colors like brown, beige, white, and black. The cowboy hat has been a staple headwear for ranchers and farmers on the southern and western parts of the United States and Mexico, and it is still being worn today because of their effectiveness in blocking sunlight from blinding the rancher’s eyes while also providing warmth during cold night and seasons.

However, the appearance of the cowboy hat that we see today is just an evolution from past designs, and the modern look of the cowboy hat is arguably the best one yet as it is both functional and stylish for the wearer. Let’s take a look at the incredible history of the cowboy hat, from its theorized origins, down to how the present appearance of the cowboy hat came to be.

Possible Origins

Before the cowboy hat became popular in the United States, historians suggest that a similar-looking hat was first seen when Mongolian horseback riders wore the headwear during their invasion of Europe in the 13th century. It was believed that Europeans brought the hat to North America and Mexico, and the Mexicans then improved upon its design and called it the sombrero.

The sombrero was then worn by Americans who lived in regions near Mexico, particularly the west and south regions. Eventually, the sombrero would be redesigned multiple times, thus leading to the invention of the different hats such as bowlers and sailor hats.

The “Boss of the Plains”

After hats became popular for cowboys and ranchers, many companies have tried to manufacture and sell their version of headwear for ranchers in the market, but only one company stood out amongst all others. That company is owned by John B. Stetson, who invented a hat called the “Boss of the Plains,” which was deemed to be stylish, durable, rigid, and waterproof.

However, John B. Stetson was not a cowboy, and he did not live in the west. Born and raised in New Jersey, Stetson got the idea for his cowboy hat when he was mining for gold in Colorado along with westerners and cowboys. He noticed that the hats they were wearing were quite impractical for the job that they do, as the materials used to make these hats were fragile and can tear easily. When he returned to New Jersey, he was so inspired to make better hats for westerners that he decided to move to Philadelphia and open up a hat manufacturing companyusing the money that he borrowed from his sister.

In 1865, Stetson successfully designed a hat that is made of waterproof felt, a much more durable material, and he incorporated a wide brim on it to protect the wearer’s eyes from the sun. He then sold dozens of his designed hat to westerners, and it became an instant hit.

The hat was eventually named the “Boss of the Plains” due to how cowboys feel like they are the boss of their ranch whenever they are wearing the hat.

The Modern Cowboy Hat

The Boss of the Plains version of the cowboy hat is not the iteration of the headwear that we know today, as it has a flat brim, unlike the modern cowboy hat, which has a curved brim and a crown that looks pinched at the top.

The curved edges and pinched crown came from cowboys who have worn their Boss of the Plains hat countless times that the waterproof felt soften after getting exposed to warm sunlight and harsh rain. After wearing it for months and even years, the Boss of the Plains hat will mold perfectly not only to the wearer’s head but also for their habits of wearing it.

Cowboys would often curl the brim of the hat at the sides so that it won’t get caught when they are swinging a rope, and they would often pinch the top part of the crown if they are going to wear it or if they are removing it from their head. This “naturally worn” look for the headwear was then incorporated by several companies into their newly manufactured cowboy hats so that wearers won’t have to wait for months or years for the hats to develop pinched crowns and curled brims.

The Cowboy Hat Today

Today, the cowboy hat is worn not only by cowboys but by other people would want to replicate the style and fashion of cowboys in the Wild West. Cowboy fashion became popular after the release of classic films such as The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966), which stars Clint Eastwood, and The Searchers (1956), a movie that is considered the best cowboy film of all time.

Even though John B. Stetson died in 1906, his company is still alive and kicking, and it now offers different kinds and variations of the cowboy hat like the 6X Open Road Fur Felt Cowboy Hat and the Roxbury Shapeable Leather Cowboy Hat. Stetson’s company will continue to sell more and more cowboys hats as long as there is a demand for it, and the demand won’t go low anytime soon.

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