Last Updated on February 25, 2023
Shopping for a new cowboy hat, especially as a first-time buyer, can be an overwhelming experience. And then you’ve got the challenge of figuring out how to wear a cowboy hat too!
There are many aspects of how to wear a cowboy hat correctly, including how you place it on your head, how you hold it, and when you should and shouldn’t wear it. Showing up in a hat worn wrongly or at the wrong time can be a huge faux pas, and an embarrassment you will certainly want to avoid!
Here’s how you can avoid making these common etiquette mistakes when wearing your new cowboy hat, with our complete guide to how to wear a cowboy hat.
How to Dress With a Cowboy Hat
The first aspect of how to wear a cowboy hat is choosing the correct hat for the occasion in question. Do you want a casual hat for everyday riding on the ranch, or are you looking for a cowboy hat for a more formal occasion? Are you after that well-worn cowboy hat look, or something a bit smarter?
The type of hat required for a specific occasion or past-time will not only impact your budget, but the occasion for wear can help determine the color and material you should choose. For example, a western pleasure rider looking for a show-ring that will have many different requirements than a day worker moving cattle.
Traditionally speaking, felt cowboy hats are normally worn for events, formal occasions, or meetings. They are also preferred for use during the winter months due to the added heat retention and water-resistant properties in comparison to straw hats.
Proper Way to Wear a Cowboy Hat According to Season
Season matters! Have you ever heard of the Labor Day white rule? The same applies to cowboy hats.
Traditionally, felt hats are reserved for the period between Labor Day and the long May weekend. Spring and summer months are reserved for straw hats. However, this unwritten rule is loosely followed in warmer climates or for special occasions.
How to Style a Cowboy Hat
You’ll surely be familiar with the iconic cowboy hat shape, but did you know that many hats do not start this way?
Cowboy hats are sold either pre-shaped or unshaped. Unshaped or uncreased hats with open brims are normally purchased if you desire a customized look or need a hat with specific dimensions.
When buying an unshaped cowboy hat, you will need to style it in the form that you prefer. One of the best ways to shape a cowboy hat made from felt or wool is to gently steam it first. This loosens the fibers sufficiently to allow the hat to be carefully molded into the desired shape.
So, what shape do you choose? Well, the matter of cowboy hat shapes and styles is very complex, but most have some features in common.
Most cowboy hat styles have the brim turned up on either side – in practical terms, this stops the lariat rope from catching on the hat. Another common feature is the crease along the crown, molded so the hat can be removed and replaced with one hand. Many hats feature a hidden wire inside the brim, helping them to hold the desired shape.
With its high, square crown, the “bull rider” crease is increasing in popularity, but it is unlikely you’ll see this type of hat in a western pleasure show ring. If you do not have a preferred crease style or predetermined measurement for the brim and crease, a good rule is to model the hat on your face shape. Round, wide faces look better with a wider, flatter, brim, while narrow faces suit a more upturned, narrower brim.
Cowboy hat sizing, like other hats, is based on the head circumference with a conversion chart. Unlike adjustable baseball caps, a cowboy hat must have a precise fit. It should comfortable enough for all-day wear, but snug enough to stay on during winds or riding a horse. Although females have the option of pinning a hat, most males do not. This means there needs to be a precise fit.
Read more about the Best Cowboy Hats For Women
How to Wear a Cowboy Hat
When it comes to wearing a cowboy hat, there is no such thing as a silly question! There are some common problems that people encounter when wearing a cowboy hat for the first time, such as which way round is the correct way to wear the hat.
One way to tell which way round a cowboy hat should go is to look for any adornments on the band around the crown, such as a buckle or feather. These should always be positioned on the left side of the head.
Another way to tell is to look at the crown – the crease should be more pronounced at one end than the other. This end, where the crown narrows into a V-shape, is the front of the hat.
Many hats have a bow on the inside of the brim, which indicates the back of the hat.
If you have longer hair, wear it loose or in a low ponytail or bun before placing the hat on your head. Hair worn in a higher ponytail or bun prevents the hat from sitting on the head correctly.
Cowboy Hat Etiquette – Dos and Donts
Cowboy hats come from a long line of tradition and carry their own customs and courtesies. Although there is some variation in geographic locations, be sure to know and memorize these basic rules before sporting your new hat to an event.
Cowboy hats – On or off?
When first stepping into a building or event, it is customary to remove your cowboy hat. However, there are some events where it is customary to wear hats indoors, especially for agricultural events in certain areas of the southwest.
For informal occasions, it is acceptable to put a cowboy hat back on after your arrival, but more formal occasions will dictate that hats remain off. Again, this varies greatly by location and the type of event. For example, in many parts of Texas, it is customary to wear a cowboy hat as a finishing piece to a formal ensemble for western events.
Cowboy hats should always be removed during prayer, at indoor weddings or funerals, or during flag-related events such as the National Anthem or Pledge of Allegiance. It is customary to hold your hat in your left hand with the right hand over your heart or to hold the hat directly over your heart.
Cowboy hats are also to be removed when:
- Introduced to a woman or an elder
- Entering a private residence unless otherwise stated
- When dining at a table
- Giving condolences
Etiquette when your hat’s off
Once you have assessed a situation and determined when it is time to remove your cowboy hat, how do you hold it and where do you place it?
Although there is some debate, the general rule for hat handling and removal is to always remove the hat from the bottom of the crown. Using the top of the crown can result in pinching or excessive creasing. Using the brim will decrease the lifespan and shape as it is the weakest part of a cowboy hat.
When not being worn, cowboy hats should be placed upside down on the crown to avoid creasing or changing the brim shape. This also allows adequate airflow to allow the hat to dry out when not in use. Although hard “hat cans” are recommended, using the original box can work for storage so long as the hat is upside down. Leaving a hat in a hot or damp environment can cause warping or shrinking.
Final Tips on How to Wear a Cowboy Hat
Wearing a cowboy hat with your ensemble comes with some responsibility, but these traditions make the overall look well worth the effort. Remember to always remove your cowboy hat when entering a building, to enable you to assess the situation and see if you can replace your hat. And, of course, never touch another person’s cowboy hat!
What is your go-to hat for events? Be sure to share this article now that the felt season is upon us!
Equestrian, Marine Corps vet, and Morgan horse enthusiast.