I couldn’t find a definite answer as to when the ‘Cowboy’ hat was given its name. Hats with tall crowns, which provide insulation, and wide brims, which provide shade, have been worn for centuries, and the “Stetson” design has changed very little since the first hat hit the market in 1865 by J.B. Stetson. Actually the bowler hat was the one commonly wore in the early days of the west, and had been proclaimed as the ‘hat that won the west’ before the Stetson—or Cowboy hat.
John Batterson Stetson manufactured a hat in 1865 that he marketed to the ‘cowboy’ as the ‘Boss of the Plains’. These hats were light weight and water-proof and depending on the construction, cost anywhere from five to thirty-dollars—the expensive ones being made of pure beaver felt. J.B. also carried the ‘charisma’ and ‘charm’ of the west back east by retelling tales of his hats, and soon the ‘Boss of the Plains’ was as popular with city dwellers as it was cowboys.
The Stetson received even more acclaim when one was discovered amongst the sunken wreckage of the USS Maine in 1912. Once cleaned, the hat that had been submerged in seawater for over 14 years was relatively undamaged.
The cowboy hat was, and still is, easy to personalize. Felt hats can be shaped by the use of steam and left to cool. There was a time when the shape and creases of the hat signified where the wearer was from— the North, South, East or West, often down to the exact ranch. Crease styles in the crown have their own names. The Cattleman is creased down the center with two indentions on each side. The Bullrider is more of a square, flat top with a crease all the way around the edges, and the Carlsbad, or ‘Gus’ crease (renamed due to its popularity following the Lonesome Dove series) has a high back crown with a front crease angling downward. There are many others: http://www.westernhats.com/hat-creases.asp
John Wayne was the first to name the Stetson ‘the hat that won the west’, and the Texas Rangers were the first to adopt it as their official headgear. (The Canadian Royal Mounted Police also use them.)
So, with all that said, what’s in a cowboy hat?
Well, inside most original Stetsons (and many since then) was/is a memorial bow to past ‘hatters’. On the back of the hat band inside the rim there is a symbol that appears to look somewhat like a Skull and Crossbones. In the early days felt was treated with a form of mercury that was highly toxic. After several years of making hats, early hat makers were known to come down with uncontrollable and often violent twitches. A result of the mercury their bodies had absorbed. Hence the term ‘Mad Hatters’ or ‘Mad as a Hatter’.
There you have it.
My brother-in-law, a cowboy his entire life, bought my youngest son a Cowboy hat years ago for his birthday. About ten at the time, my son was so enthralled with the hat, he plunked it on his head without allowing my brother-in-law to ‘shape’ it. Therefore, my brother-in-law teasingly referred to it as a George Strait-out-of-the-box hat.
I used that line in my next release, Sing to Me, Cowboy. This book is part of the Honky Tonk Hearts series from The Wild Rose Press and will be released on May, 23rd. Here’s a short excerpt:
“Hey? Are you all right?”
The shiver that zipped up her spine caught in her throat with the power to strangle the life out of her. There are certain voices one never forgets—and a first love ranked very near number one.
Heather fought for air. It couldn’t possibly be him. He was in Nashville, where all the famous singers hung out.
“Excuse me, Miss?”
Her hands trembled as air finally entered her lungs. Could this night get any worse? Could her life get any worse?
Pushing off her knees, she straightened her spine, and wasn’t surprised the strangling sensation came back full force. Her heart—as if it wasn’t already racing—shifted into overdrive.
It was him.
Lance Dugan. From his George Strait-out-of-the-box-hat to his un-scuffed Justin boots.
The last person she’d ever expected to see. The last person she’d want to see in the shape she was right now.
Inhaling until her lungs threatened to burst, she squared her shoulders and wished she was back in her car, sweating to death, being eaten by wild beasts, anything but standing face to face with him.
--“Don't try on another man’s hat. It’s almost as bad as getting on his horse.” –ranchandfarmworld.com