Apparel FAQ

Unwritten Rules: Cowboy Hat Customs for Rookies

man tipping cowboy hat
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Written by Natalie Gasper

Best Way Not to Break the Rules? Know Them!

Cowboy hats are popular with more than just cowboys. If you’re going to partake in this centuries-old fashion tradition, we want to help you do it right!

Cowboy hats may seem complicated, but once you know the rules, wearing them is a breeze. The three most important rules to always follow are 1) take your hat off indoors, 2) always put your hat down on the crown, and 3) NEVER touch someone else’s hat!

If you believe in superstitions, also avoid putting your cowboy hat on your bed and never wear your hat backward (both invite bad luck). It’s polite for men to remove their hats when being introduced to a woman.

And ladies, don’t touch a man’s hat without his permission!

horse wearing cowboy hat

Source: Canva

Cowboy Hats: Unspoken Rules

(Except we’re telling you! 😉)

In many ways, cowboy hats have a culture all their own. While some traditions may vary from one place to the next, there are several widely recognized, although somewhat informal, rules around cowboy hats.

  • Never touch someone else’s hat
  • Don’t put a hat down on the brim
  • Take your hat off indoors

Cowboy Hat Superstition

Despite being hard workers, cowboys have a LOT of superstitions, including several where their hats are concerned.

Don’t Place a Cowboy Hat on Your Bed

Cowboys never put their hats on their beds. It’s believed to invite bad luck (or predict injury).

This superstition likely originated from a time when cowboys hardly bathed and head lice were a serious problem. Placing hats on beds would have made this problem worse.

Always Lay Your Hat Upside-Down

If you don’t have a cowboy hat box (which is a wise investment) or a hook to hang your hat on, never place your hat someplace brim-side down. Not only will it ruin the shape of the hat, but it’s believed to empty the hat of luck.

Alternatively, placing a hat crown-side down will fill the hat with luck!

hat sitting on rope and guitar

Source: Canva

Never Wear Your Hat Backwards

To the inexperienced eye, a cowboy hat may not have a discernible front or back. Seasoned cowboys can tell with a glance if you’re wearing yours correctly.

Always make sure the bow on the sweatband is in the back. If a hat has any embellishment, like feathers, a buckle, or some other type of adornment, it should be worn on the left.

Cowboy Hat Respect & Disrespect

A cowboy hat is more than just an accessory, it’s an extension of who you are. If you want to be treated with respect, it’s important to show some to your hat!

  • Never place your hat brim-side down
  • Never touch someone else’s hat
  • Always take your hat off indoors

Cowboy Hat Rules

Cowboy hats may seem complicated, but they’re easy to wear correctly once you know the rules. One of the simplest rules is to wear a straw hat from Memorial Day to Labor Day and a felt hat from Labor Day to Memorial Day.

Rules for Men

1. Remove your hat when being introduced to a woman.
2. During the National Anthem and funerals, hold your hat in your right hand across your heart.
3. Don’t be afraid to tip your hat as a show of thanks, respect, or when saying hello/goodbye.

Rules for Women

1. Don’t touch a man’s hat without his permission.
2. Always remove your hat during a wedding ceremony.
3. If your hat has any adornments (or if you want to add one), always put it on the left.

people in bar wearing cowboy hats

Source: Canva

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the superstitions about cowboy hats?

There are many superstitions surrounding cowboys and their hats, but one of the biggest ones is about NEVER placing a cowboy hat on a bed. It’s believed to foretell bad luck at best and serious injury or death at worst.

Q: What does it mean when you hang a cowboy hat upside down?

Cowboy hats are actually meant to be placed upside down when not being worn. This protects the hat from becoming misshapen and is believed to prevent luck from falling out of it.

Q: What is a cowboy hat with one side flipped up?

This type of hat is better known as a Slouch hat. It’s a popular style in Australia because of its use in the military. The United States military used these hats a lot for officers during the Civil War.

Q: Why is leaving your hat on disrespectful?

This belief likely stems from medieval times when it was common courtesy for knights to remove their helmets to identify themselves (and show respect).

man kneeling holding cowboy hat

Source: Canva

Q: Why do men remove their hats when entering a room?

While there are several reasons for this habit, they all boil down to respect. Hats were customarily removed in places of worship, in the presence of royalty, and when around women.

Q: Do real cowboys wear their hats indoors?

Except for some informal occasions, real cowboys always show respect to their hosts by removing their hats indoors. If you plan to host any cowboys, it’s polite to offer a place for them to hang their hats so they aren’t damaged when they’re not being worn.

Q: Where should you never put a hat according to superstition?

One of the biggest no-no’s is placing your hat on a bed.

Q: What is the cowboy hat rule for flirting?

While touching someone else’s hat is usually a no-no, an exception can be made when flirting. Women might take a man’s hat and put it on her head, or a man may put the hat on her himself. This can be a solid indication of interest.

Q: What does the hat flick mean?

The hat flick is the cowboy’s (classier) version of flicking someone off. Instead of using a certain finger, a cowboy flicks his brim. This is a go-to way to let someone know they’ve annoyed you or crossed a line.

straw hat hanging on dark wall

Source: Canva

Parting Thoughts

With a firm grasp of the (formerly) unspoken cowboy hat rules, you can now wear that fabulous cowboy hat with confidence!

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About the author

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Nancy loves retraining off the track Thoroughbreds and working with her dogs!