I absolutely despise folded up, taco-resembling straw hats that come from Target or Walmart. People call them cowboy hats, but no self respecting cowboy would be caught dead in one of these.
To me, a cowboy hat is a Resistol, a Bailey or a Stetson.
In a couple of instances, I have used Resistol or Bailey in a story and the editor has asked me to change it to Stetson. They are the most known of the hat brands.
John B. Stetson was born in 1830 in New Jersey, and he worked for his father, who was a hatter. Because his health was poor, John B. Stetson headed to Colorado. On a hunting trip, he made a fur hat because beaver pelt could hold its shape better than fabric.
In 1865, John B. Stetson went back east, to Philadelphia, where he produced hats. Based on that hat he made for his hunting trip, he made his first hat based on his western experiences. It was called “Boss of the Plains”.
Stetson sent a sample hat to merchants throughout the Southwest with a letter asking for an order. Cowboys across the west went crazy for the hat and in less than a year, Stetson had a new factory. His hats were very expensive and a cowboy wearing a Stetson was thought to be doing well.
The shape varied. The shape of the hat's crown and brim were often modified by being held over hot steam, shaped, and allowed to dry and cool. Felt tends to keep the shape in which it dries. Early cowboys favored high crown and wide brims.
Maybe the reason most people associate a cowboy hat with a Stetson is that by 1886 Stetson's hat company was the largest in the world, and had mechanized the hat-making industry. In the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, both cowboys and city dwellers wore the Stetson.
Women also wore Stetson hats.
Military and police can be found in Stetson hats.
Movie stars and singers wear the brand.
But the most likely place to find a one of John B. Stetson’s hats is still on the head of a cowboy or cowgirl.