Common Types Of Cowboy Hats: Comprehensive Guide

What Are the Different Types of Cowboy Hats?

The cowboy hat began as a practical solution to the elements faced daily on the ranch but soon became the symbolic accessory of the American West. You may have noticed many different styles of cowboy hats; some differences are for function, and some are a way of expressing one’s personal style.

What are the common types of cowboy hats? The Cattleman is the most popular style and is what most people think about when they hear the term. It has the quintessential crease through the middle of the crown with two dents at each side. Most brims are curved upward at the sides. Other popular cowboy hat styles include the Brick, the Montana Mix, and the Gambler. 

Different styles will look good on different people. To learn more about each style of cowboy hat, keep reading!

Cowboy Hat Terminology

You may wonder what the main differences are between the Cattleman, the Gambler, the Montana Mix, and the other popular hat styles. Most differences in cowboy hat styles lie in the creases, the dents, and the brims. The crease is the pinch at the top of the hat crown, while the dents are the indentations found on either side of the crease.

Most of the popular cowboy hat styles you will find have a crease and two dents. The brim is the sun protection piece of the hat. The brims that are flat throughout offer the most sun protection, though many cowboys opt for brims that are curled at the sides to avoid getting hit by a swinging lasso.

Cowboy Hat Style #1: The Cattleman

As noted, the Cattleman is the most popular style of cowboy hat. It has a medium-height crown (approximately 4-5 inches), a prominent crease along the center of the crown without significant slope, and a dent on each side. The Cattleman is not only the most popular but also one of the oldest. To order a Cattleman cowboy hat on Amazon, click here.

Cowboy Hat Style #2: The Brick

This hat may also be known as the Dakota. It has a more squared crown than the other cowboy hat styles and includes a crease that is shallower and wider than the crease found on the Cattleman. The dents are typically less pronounced than in other styles, and the brim is usually curled. You can purchase a Brick cowboy hat on Amazon here.

Cowboy Hat Style #3: The Montana Mix

The crease in the Montana Mix is more pronounced and pinched at the front, giving the crown a seemingly downward slope. The dents are typically less pronounced and located toward the front of the crown, adding to the sloped appearance. The Montana Mix crown height and indentations can be found in a significant variety, and the most prominent are akin to the hats that forest rangers are typically seen wearing. To see more of the Montana Mix style, click here.

Cowboy Hat Style #4: The Gambler

The Gambler is a recognizable cowboy hat style, with its low crown, flat brim, and “telescope crease” around the entire rim of the crown. While it was designed in the Southwest as functional sun protection, it is now seen as a particular style. The Gambler is well-associated with villains in Western movies, hence its name. Buy your gambler hat on Amazon here.

If I had to choose one style of cowboy hat for myself, I would probably choose the Gambler. I guess I see myself giving villain vibes.

What are Cowboy Hats Made Out of?

Like in the old days, beaver fur is still used to make cowboy hats today. It takes 42 beaver pelts to create a single hat, and the price is understandably higher than hats of other materials. Cowboy hats are most commonly made of felt made of either rabbit fur or wool. As with most products, they can also be found in synthetic materials. Cowboy hats also come in straw, usually tightly woven wheat, rye, or oat straw.

While both felt and straw hats offer adequate sun protection, the material a person chooses will vary by climate. A felt hat will keep your head warm and insulated in colder regions, while a straw hat will offer ventilation and a lighter weight in the warmer months. I love to wear my straw hat in the hot summer months at the barn and in the garden! 

The First Cowboy Hats

Cowboy hats were developed based on the design of the Mexican sombrero. After all, who better to gain wisdom from about sun protection than those ranching close to the equator? John B. Stetson is credited with designing the archetype of the modern cowboy hat, creating the “Boss of the Plains” hat in 1865. The earliest Boss of the Plains hats were made from beaver pelt for their waterproofing quality. Original advertising for the hat depicted a cowboy using the upturned crown to water his horse. 

It is believed that the first indentations were made inadvertently to the Boss of the Plains hats, occurring over time by the wearer’s hands while donning and removing the accessory. Soon, the hats were intentionally customized with creases and dents. Today, the Boss of the Plains is offered in various designs. 

Cowboy Hat Styles Made Popular Through Media

As popular as Westerns are today, there was a time when the “influencers” of the day were almost entirely from the “Wild West” genre. It is no wonder that the most famous of on-screen cowboys impacted the popular style at the time. The following cowboy hat styles are two such examples.

The Gus

The “Gus” was designed specifically for Robert Duvall’s character in the 1980s-era miniseries Lonesome Dove. The hat features a tall crown with a forward-sloping crease and two dents near the front of the hat. Some hats of this style also feature a “mule kick,” an additional indentation at the back top of the crown, usually fairly shallow.

The Tom Mix (aka the 10-gallon Hat)

About fifty years before the Gus came into existence, Stetson created the Tom Mix, or 10-gallon hat, for the silent film era’s cowboy star of the same name. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History states that “more than any other star before 1930, Tom Mix had great influence on western wear.” The influence lasted, as you can still purchase the Tom Mix today. It has a tall crown with a deep crease and prominent dents on the sides. Unique about this style is that it typically only comes in one color – a white felt. 

Cowboy Hats were Once Commonly Customized

In the Old West, cowboys spent most of their time on the range, often going days or even weeks without seeing anyone outside of their own band. At the time, it was common to purchase “open crown” cowboy hats; one with a rounded crown and without either dents or creases. Cowboys would customize them with a “family crease” or a “ranch crease.” Not only did this offer a way to differentiate their ranch from others, but it also served as a means of identification when coming across others on the plains. 

Personalizing Your Cowboy Hat with a Hat Band

You don’t have to buy a cowboy hat with an open crown to make it your own. Most cowboy hats have “hat bands,” the ribbon or tie that can be found around the circumference of the base of the hat. It may surprise you to learn that hat bands were once more than decoration, serving a particular function. They were once used to hold personal belongings like tobacco and playing cards.

Cowboys who spent their days and nights on the range had limited storage space, so they had to take advantage of every available means of storage. Other cowboys used the hat bands to hold items of cultural significance, such as feathers and beads.

Today, hat bands are primarily used as a means of personalizing a cowboy hat. They can include many different materials, including leather, beads, silver, and even horse hair. Many are found in intricate patterns and are a way of reflecting one’s own style and personal meaning.

Which Cowboy Hat Might You Be Found In?

Unless you’re roping or otherwise regularly engaged in a discipline that requires a specific hat, the modern cowboy hat is chosen almost entirely on personal style. I wear my straw cowboy hat for sun protection during the Spring and Summer, but I chose an aesthetically pleasing style aside from function.

We all have different preferences, and what I like may not be what you like. If you’re looking for your next cowboy hat, my advice would be to go to your nearest Western store and try on a handful of hats in front of the mirror. While you may not opt for a 10-gallon hat, you may be surprised with what fits you best.

To complete your outfit, you’ll need a good pair of shoes. Check out my article What Shoes to Wear Horseback Riding: Beginner’s Guide.

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