There was a time in LaSalle Parish and in most nearby areas that a man’s daily attire was not complete without the addition of a cowboy hat riding high on his head. Wearing the hat did not constitute that the wearer was necessarily trying to emulate the lifestyle but more that the hat served a needed purpose and was an extension of the man wearing it. The hat of choice was up to the individual’s preference, but often that hat was none other than a Stetson.
The Stetson cowboy hat with its easily recognizable high crown and wide brim was the first of its kind made and set the standard for all other up and coming cowboy hats. It was developed and created by easterner John Batterson Stetson of Pennsylvania who began his hat business in 1865.
John Stetson’s hat making career took an important step when he decided he would make hats for working men such as ranchers, bull whackers, miners and other western frontiersmen to protect them from rain and sun. Shortly after sending out a few samples of the newly crafted hats to every vendor in every city in the southwest, he started getting orders from all over the west and business boomed.
The first Stetson hats sold for $5.00, with the price increasing as time went on. Today, a Stetson can cost anywhere from $120.00 to as high as $5,600.00. The average cost of non-Stetson, everyday hat is anywhere from $40.00 to $100.00 with high-end designer cowboy hats at $5,000.00 or more.
The creation of the cowboy hat, which Stetson called the Boss of the Plains, soon became the iconic symbol of the west and all things deemed ‘cowboy’. It didn’t take long, however, for the hat to cross the boundaries of the cowboy life into the US military and were even worn by men of every background and social status. The Stetson soon made its way into the movie theaters worn by good guys and bad guys on the largerthan-life screens. U.S.
Presidents, including Lyndon B. Johnson, George Bush and Ronald Reagan each sported their choice make and model of the hat.
Authentically American, the iconic Stetson cowboy hat and other western headwear is ingrained into U.S. history with images of rugged men riding the trails and “hanging their hats” on the image it portrayed. Stetson ceased manufacturing in 1970 but the hats are still made today in Garland, TX by Hatco, Inc.
Modern versions of cowboy hats now have the familiar curved brim and indented crown, unlike the traditional western hat with its flat brim and rounded top. Stetson hats are reputed to last a lifetime when cared for properly. Included among good care for all cowboy hats is hanging the hat when possible and if not, setting it upside-down on its crown, which is said to keep good luck from running out and possibly even catching good luck that’s floating around. Doing so helps to air the hat out and retain the shape of the brim.
Cowboy hat etiquette requires taking off your hat any time you enter buildings such as churches and restaurants. A hat should also be removed when sitting down at a table to eat and especially when standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem. As a sidenote, one should never mess with a cowboy’s hat, never touching it and never contemplate taking it.
There are still many heads that sport western wear, including popular hats for women and children. Stepping out in style can include cowboy hats made of fur, leather and straw. Decorative hat bands on the outside of the crowns also lends a flair. Winter and fall months is the time to sport felt and leather hats, while straw hats rule hot, summer months.
The American cowboy hat has traditionally been a symbol of freedom and rugged individualism. Today, anyone and everyone can perch a cowboy hat on their heads to keep the sun out of their eyes – including cowboys, cowgirls, rodeo riders, ranchers or just the common citizen who likes the feel and the look. Whether a traditional Stetson or another desired brand, the look is natural, the history is sound and the hat tells the story.