Gear Riding Tips

Cowboy Hat Colors & Etiquette for Beginners

cowboy hat colors
Written by Aimee B.

Cowboy Hat Color Rules & When to Wear What

Is there anything more symbolic of the American West than the cowboy hat? Cowboy hats go hand-in-hand with cattle, horses, and long hours on the open range.

Whether you’re looking for a cowboy hat for work or play, there are a few things to consider. We’ll break down the history of cowboy hats, popular colors, and cowboy hat etiquette.

Cowboy Hat Basics

The modern-day cowboy hat retains some of the basic properties of the very first hats worn on the open range in the 1800s.

Although the cowboy hat is commonly viewed as a fashion statement, it retains its place as a functional accessory in many parts of the country.

Cowboy Hat History

Cowboys worked long hours in all kinds of weather. They needed protection from the elements, and the cowboy hat fit the bill.

One of the more popular hats was invented by John B. Stetson in 1865. It was called the “Boss of the Plains” and was made of fur from rabbits and other small animals. Durability was key!

The shape of these early hats was slightly different than those seen today. Early hats were more rounded and didn’t feature such turned-up brims.

Over time, hat shapes have evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of the American cowboy.

Hat on fence post

Photo Cred: Canva

Cowboy Hats: Common Uses

These versatile hats are great for work, play, and everything in between! They’re still a wardrobe staple for working cowboys and ranchers out West and elsewhere around the country.

You’ll commonly see cowboy hats as a standard part of Western show attire, especially for non-riding events such as halter or showmanship classes.

Helmets are always recommended for riding, but are generally not required for the >18 crowd.

You’ll also find cowboy hats at country or rock music festivals in the summertime.

Cowboy hats are a great way to dress an outfit either up or down. You may even see them at formal events such as weddings.

Typical Materials

Cowboy hats are generally made from either felt or straw.

Felt hats are typically more expensive and are more commonly worn during the winter months. They can be made of various furs, including beaver, buffalo, rabbit, or mink.

Straw hats are cheaper and not as warm; they are usually worn during the summer months.

Hats made of wool or leather are also available. They tend to hold more heat and are more expensive.

General Price Points

You can find a cheap straw hat for just upwards of $20. Or, if you’re looking for something with a bit of bling, Stetson has a premium felt hat with diamond embellishments that retails for over $5,000.

Cowboy hats of either the felt or straw variety come in price points between $25 and $5,000.

In most cases, it’s possible to find a hat that fits both your style and desired price point.

Popular Brands

No list of popular cowboy hat brands would be complete without mentioning Stetson. The company has been around since the mid-1800s, when they pioneered the version of the hat still recognized today.

Stetson continues to offer a massive range of quality hats at different price points.

American Hat Company got its start in Texas in 1915. Despite bankruptcy and a massive fire that destroyed millions of dollars of inventory, the company is still manufacturing quality hats today.

Hat store

Photo Cred: Canva

Resistol is another company started in Texas. This company has been offering quality cowboy hats since 1927.

Today, they have more contemporary options, including both George Strait and Jason Aldean product lines.

Greeley Hat Works is another popular hat maker, especially in the Quarter Horse show world. They offer tried-and-true hat styles for shows, along with customizable and truly custom hats.

Most recently, you can even order Made-to-Order hats inspired by the popular TV show, Yellowstone.

Cowboy Hat Etiquette

Did you know that there are rules to wearing cowboy hats?

One of the biggest rules is that you should never touch someone else’s cowboy hat!

  • Another is that you should remove your cowboy hat when entering a building or attending a formal indoor occasion.
  • When eating in a restaurant, your hat should come off. But if you’re eating out under the open sky, leave it on to avoid theft or damage by a stray hoof.
  • It’s always customary to remove your hat during the National Anthem, passing the flag, or the Pledge of Allegiance. Funerals and church services also warrant taking one’s cowboy hat off.
  • When removing your cowboy hat, always place it on the crown rather than the brim. Putting it on the brim may distort the shape. Therefore, a hat rack is ideal for hanging one’s cowboy hat.
  • There’s also an unwritten rule about when to wear felt versus straw. It’s customary between Memorial Day and Labor Day to wear a straw hat.
  • But between Labor Day and Memorial Day, go for felt. This rule has to do with heat, as felt is generally warmer than straw.
Straw hat

Straw hat. Photo Cred: Canva

Popular Colors

Cowboy hats come in various colors, including black, different shades of brown, gray, and white.

You can also find fun cowboy-shaped hats in all colors of the rainbow.

Hat Color by Event

The differences between cowboy hats based on particular events generally has more to do with the shape and overall function of that hat versus the color itself.

For example, events involving cattle require hats with a more relaxed brim, while hats for a Western Pleasure class may be shaped to look more like a taco.

Formal Western events, including Western pleasure, horsemanship, and halter classes, include hats with a more dressed-up appearance. The color should also tastefully match the rider’s outfit, although black is by far the most common color.

His and her cowboy hats

Photo Cred: Canva

Hat Color by Age:

Since cowboy hats now come in a vast range of colors, young kids can sport purple, pink, and blue hats. Non-traditionally colored hats are also a fun option for parties or music festivals.

Any traditional hat color that complements one’s complexion and outfit is acceptable for the serious Western enthusiast.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the most popular color cowboy hat?

Black is hands-down the most popular cowboy hat color choice.

Q: What do different cowboy hat colors mean?

In old Western movies from the 1920s to 1940s, “bad guys” wore black hats while “good guys” wore white ones. The same standard does not necessarily hold true today.

Q: What color cowboy hat should you wear?

It depends on your budget, why you’re buying the hat, and whether the hat needs to match a specific outfit. In general, as long as you like the hat, anything goes!

Q: When can I wear a brown felt cowboy hat?

Felt hats are traditionally worn between Labor Day and Memorial Day because they retain heat. This makes felt hats better for colder weather.

Q: What is cowboy hat etiquette?

Mostly unwritten rules are about when your hat should be removed. The most important rule, however, is never to touch another person’s cowboy hat! Etiquette also includes directions about hat care and selection of felt versus straw hats.

Parting Thoughts

Whether you’re on the market for a cheap knock-off or high-end Stetson, keep the reason you’re buying the hat central to your decision-making process. Set your budget and start shopping once you’ve decided whether the hat is for work or play!

Keep in mind that hats of all different shapes may be more appropriate for specific facial structures or purposes. And if the hat is to be worn for show, you may want to take your show outfit with you to ensure the colors match.

Remember that there’s a hat for everyone, and have fun on your search!

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About the author


Aimee B.

Aimee grew up riding and showing in western pleasure and horsemanship through 4-H. She began riding dressage 7 years ago and is currently training her 3.5-year-old Friesian/Quarter Horse.