A resilient symbol of individualism and adventure, the cowboy hat resonates in the American imagination and can make a rugged statement whether on a reenactment ground or in the urban frontier. Unfortunately, the charismatic, but ostentatious hat models popularized by Hollywood and country music stars rarely tally with the understated, functional headgear worn by real 19thcentury cow drivers. As you patrol the wide plain of the internet with an eye for style, materials, and company pedigree, you can nevertheless find the authentic hat that will bind you to those professional risk-takers of the Old West.
Still one of the premier names in Western fashion, Stetson Hat Co. launched the Boss of the Plains model, a hat that would become a mainstay of the genuine cowboy lifestyle, in 1865. Oddly, the style produced by Stetson today under the label Boss of the Plains bears little resemblance to the original. Instead, for a more nostalgic and accurate look, you could turn to Stetson’s Austral model, part of the Western Felt collection. This unflappable chapeau displays a flat, moderate brim to shade your eyes from the blazing sun. The Austral also features an open crown that you can crease and dent during your days in the saddle or when you take it off to salute a passing belle. Stetson’s Dome and Bat Masterson styles also correspond to the unfussy sincere charm of the genuine vaquero.
Like Stetson, Beaver Brand hats win points among purveyors of genuine cowboy gear due to their pedigree: the company, the oldest surviving hat-making enterprise in America, was founded in 1860. In recognition of their roots, this quality establishment even offers an impressively diverse 1860 Old West line of hats that mimic the widely recorded styles worn by cattle drivers. For a casual, but authoritative impact, you might choose Beaver’s Sand hat. Another period piece for today’s cowboy, the company’s 5X Black exudes devil-may-care attitude.
Western period hats are a labor of love for Knudsen Hat Co. In addition to Hollywood reproductions, the company offers two scrupulously researched, made-to-order renditions of open range classics. Their Boss of the Plains boasts a structure nearly identical to that created by Stetson who used a cooking pot as a shaping tool. Moreover, Knudsen carries another favorite of the 19thcentury cowboy, the Montana Peaks hat. The attention-drawing conical crown of this style might appeal to all leaders of the pack. Even among the movie replica hats, Knudsen strives for playful authenticity with the Ike Clayton, based on the hat worn by the Tombstone character of the same name. This kneaded, lived-in variation on the Boss of the Plains not only projects enduring insouciance, but also accurately recalls the state of cowboy headgear. Rumpled never seemed so in-control.
Another excellent maker of custom Old West headwear, Rand’s Custom Hats provides its own version of the mainstays mentioned above and even broadens the selection. In the spirit of tough, make-do cowboy world, Rand serves up a wide variety of plausible hats which cattle drivers would have seized for their long rides. For instance, the Jiggerboss and the Nevada Gambler resemble Plainsman and Plantation models of hats that working horsemen might have adapted to their needs, as you can too.
No inventory of cowboy hats would be complete without the inclusion of the iconic wide-brimmed, small-crowned Mexican Sombrero. Depicted in the historically accurate paintings of Frederick Remington, this romantic hat perched atop the heads of many a Texan cattle driver. River Junction Trade Company’s online store offers the Commanchero, a majestic felt sombrero, in addition to several rustic straw models. This daring style will perfectly suit anyone who hope to emulate the legendary élan of Southwestern cattlemen.
As you scour the internet for your cowboy hat, you will no doubt come across X markings on hat models. Each hatter will have his own policy, but when this refers to beaver fur, the more X’s signify a higher composition of beaver fur. However, remember that 100% beaver hair hats would have been far too expensive for 19thcentury cowboys. Stetson made the original Boss of the Plains hat out of fur felt, so this material would especially befit a hat with a claim to authenticity. If you want to explore other hat companies but need more information about the styles worn by cowboys, “In Search of the Real Cowboy Hat” featured in The Cowboy Chronicle is highly recommended and served as the resource for all factual information about the evolution of the historical cowboy hat mentioned in this guide.
Finally, a hat seller can only go so far in making a hat “genuine”. It’s up to you to wear it, dent it, dirty it, and break it in: some cowboys even used theirs as pillows. Choose the hat that’ll be your new best friend. Only adventure will endow your hat with the character and intrepid memories of the Old West.