Decoding Cowboy Hat Terms and Types
The cowboy hat is certainly an iconic symbol of the American West. J.B. Stetson created the first cowboy hat in 1865. The design really hasn’t changed much since then.
When shopping for a cowboy hat, there are a lot of factors to consider. Finding the right fit and shape depends on your anticipated use, budget, desired material, and the shape of your face. The brim shape and crown crease allow you to further customize your cowboy hat look.
Cowboy Hats: The Basics
Cowboy hats originated in the American West. They are a tool designed to protect the wearer from the elements—sun, wind, rain, and more. The design has changed over time to better suit the needs of the cowboy.
For example, the brim was curved upwards for increased mobility, whether that be swinging a rope or climbing through a barbed-wire fence.
Adding a crease to the crown of the hat improved both fit and functionality.
Today, cowboy hats are still used on the ranch, but can also be worn as a fashion statement.
Whether you’re buying a cowboy hat for your next horse show or country music festival, understanding hat styles is an important part of the shopping process.
Learning the various parts of a cowboy hat will make the shopping process easier.
The crown is the top part of the hat.
The crease refers to how the crown is shaped.
The brim is the material that wraps around the circumference of the crown. It can also be shaped.
The hatband can be simple or decorative. You can always upgrade this part of the hat later!
If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a great video about cowboy hat anatomy:
Shapes and Styles
Cowboy hat ‘style’ is a fairly generic term. While the “Cattleman” and the “Gambler” are both hat styles, the hat measurements (height of the crown, width of the brim) can differ pretty significantly.
Cowboy hat shape is a bit easier to understand. For example, most cowboy hats start with a “Boss of the Plains” or Open Crown.” This simply means a rounded, un-creased crown. From there, you could choose from a variety of different crease styles.
A flat brim is similar, and pretty self-explanatory. It’s flat—so it is not shaped.
Cowboy hats start with a flat brim, then can be shaped into anything from a low Bull Rider brim style or a high Quarter Horse brim style.
Cowboy Hat Materials
Most cowboy hats will be made from either felt or straw.
Felt hats could be made from wool felt or fur felt. Beaver and rabbit are the most common source of fur hats.
Beaver is considered to be the “gold standard” for fur-felt hats, as it has water-repelling qualities, is durable, and the hairs interlock well.
Felt hats are lightweight and will keep you warm in cold weather.
“X’s” refer to the material the hat was made from. The number of X’s indicates the percent of beaver fur used in the hat compared to other furs (such as wild hare).
Each X equals 10% beaver fur. So, XXXXX means the hat is comprised of 50% beaver fur, 50% wild hare.
Silverbelly hats are made from the fur from a beaver’s belly.
Straw hats are generally less expensive and better in hot, summer months. The material allows for extra air flow and the brim protects you from the sun.
Straw is most often worn from Memorial Day until Labor Day.
Felt vs. Straw Cowboy Hats
- Waterproofing qualities
- Lightweight and insulating
- More expensive than straw
- Watch out for wool–wool felt doesn’t hold its shape well
$$ – $$$$
- Extra airflow to keep you cool
- Less expensive
- Typically not waterproof
- Seasonal (summer)
$ – $$
Cowboy Hat Styles Explained
Style can refer to brim shape and/or crown creases.
A quality hat manufacturer will help advise you on which styles to select based on where you plan to wear the hat and your face shape.
A traditional brim shape with a low roll that provides good protection from the sun. This style is very popular.
A flat brim with the very outer edges rolled up, framing the face. The front of the brim is flat, making a corner where the roll begins. This style is also popular.
Reiner Low Sides
A flatter style brim; the edges are rolled up more than the Bull Rider. The front portion of the brim is straight like the Bull Rider, but is wider.
Reiner High Sides
The brim edges are rolled up somewhere between the Cutter style and the show crease.
Quarter Horse or Show Crease
This hat shape has a pretty extreme roll and, quite honestly, slightly resembles a hard-shell taco. The front part of the brim is straight, making the sharpest angle into the roll.
Flat, or Buckaroo
This brim is completely flat and doesn’t really look like it’s been shaped at all. All hats start with a flat brim.
This hat has a moderate role but a curved brim in the front, instead of the angular design seen in the Bull Rider, Reiner, and Quarter Horse styles.
Similar to the Quarter Horse, this hat style features an extreme roll but with a rounded front as opposed to a flat brim with sharp angles into the roll.
The brim closely resembles the Rancher.
The most traditional crease for cowboy hats, three creases run from front to back.
This one literally looks like a brick could sit on top of the hat, within the crease in the crown
Similar to the Brick Crease, this crown style is pinched on four corners to make a rectangular shape. It’s popular with bull riders.
This crown style is pinched in the front to create a “V” shape. It’s a very popular style among a variety of hat types, including cowboy hats.
Similar to the Pinch Front, but with a higher crown that slopes down towards the front of the hat.
This hat has a wide, flat brim paired with a flat crown.
Boss of the Plains
This style is actually crease-less. Its rounded shape is also referred to as “Open Crown.”
Montana Mix / Tom Crease / Ten Gallon
Similar to the Gus style, this hat is larger and more dramatic, hence the “10-gallon” nickname.
There are certainly a lot of styles to consider when selecting a hat!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I choose a cowboy hat shape?
While the options for shaping your hat might seem overwhelming, a reputable hat retailer can help steer you in the right direction based on your desired use and what will best compliment your face shape.
For example, if you’re showing at a Quarter Horse show in a Horsemanship class, you’ll probably want a Cattleman’s Crease with a Quarter Horse style brim.
If you’re heading to a Western-themed wedding in the mountains, you might opt for a pinch front crown and a brim style that best fits your face structure.
What is the most popular Western hat shape?
The Cattleman Crease is the most popular hat shape.
The Rancher brim shape is popular for working cowboys.
What kind of hats do real cowboys wear?
Cowboys wear a variety of brands and styles. Stetson is always a classic! However, Greeley Hat Works, Resistol, and American Hat Makers are also great brands. Shorty’s Hattery is popular in the Quarter Horse show world.
What does cowboy hat style mean?
Cowboy hat style can mean the shape of the brim, the style of the crease, or the overall hat look.
What are the best hat shapes for face shapes?
One reason we have so many cowboy hat styles to choose from is because different styles look better with different face shapes.
- Oval Face: Lucky you! Just about any combination of crown / brim style will look good on you.
- Round Face: Look for a high crown with a slanted brim. Avoid wide brims with rounded crowns.
- Long Face: You’ll want a medium crown height and a wide brim with a curve.
- Square Face: Shop for a wide brim with a rounded crown. Steer clear of harsh creases.
- Heart Shaped Face: Look for a shorter brim hat and a teardrop-shaped crease.
- Diamond Face: You’ll want to shop for a cutter or Cattleman’s crease combined with an angled brim.
How do you shape a cowboy hat?
Cowboy hat retailers use steam to clean and shape your hat.
How do you store a cowboy hat?
A hat box is a great way to store your hat when you’re not wearing it.
Here’s a great quality hat box available on Amazon.
You can also put your hat on a hat rack. Don’t set your hat down with the brim facing down—you’ll ruin the shape.
You also don’t want to put your hat away if it’s wet—let it air-dry first.
Never store a felt hat in a plastic bag.
Cowboy hat style is a broad term that can mean a lot! Most frequently, hat style refers to the variety of crease and brim shapes you can select.
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