Wearing and Etiquette

Wearing and Handling

Well first things first, you never, ever want to be caught wearing your cowboy hat backwards.  I've seen it a couple of times and it's not pretty, on top of that it's bad luck.  On the inside of the hat, look for the small ribbon bow, that is the back of the hat.  Also, the hat band on the outside of the crown will most likely have a bow, feather, a buckle or some other adornment and that always sits on the left side when the hat is worn.  The last tip is that the hat will usually look narrower to the front.

Originally felt hats were intended for winter wear (protecting from moisture and cold) and straw for summer (protecting from heat and sun) which is logical.  An arbitrary fasion rule is supposedly that felt is worn between Labour day and the May long weekend, and straw in between.  The reality is that both are seen at either time of year depending on the weather at the time of wearing.  If it's super hot, maybe a straw would be better than a black hat.  If it's a cold night, a straw might be too chilly on the head and felt would be a more comfortable choice.  Then again, if it's a formal event, I probably wouldn't wear a straw no matter what.  Let common sense be your guide.

Now there seem to be two schools of thought on handling hats.  One school says when putting on or removing your hat, hold the brim near the crown in the front and the back.  Another school says to never handle by the brim, to always lightly grasp the crown.  Essentially it boils down to this:  Any handling which causes flexing or bending of the brim or crown will gradually weaken the body of your hat.  The more severe the flex or bend, the sooner the hat will lose its natural ability to maintain its shape.  Personally, I usually handle my hats by the crown albeit gently.  I almost never handle them by the brim except to adjust them on my head, since this is a more easily disrupted structure.

I have a reasonably soft black wool hat that I would wear out sometimes and  someone once, thinking they were funny, pulled down the sides of my hat to almost 90 degrees.  Luckily because it was a wool hat, no real harm came to it although it wasn't good for the long term structural health of it.  A felt hat would not have survived that assault and my acquaintance would not have gotten off so lightly.  Rule #1: You don't mess with a cowboy's hat - See the Etiquette section for more on this.

To Travel with a hat, some make use of Travel Hat Boxes with Handles.  These are solid containers the protect the hat from physical and environmental damage, especially if it's a more expensive hat.  If I'm traveling and not wearing my relatively inexpensive hat, I simply carry it, albeit carefully, in a plastic shopping bag.

Cowboy Hat Etiquette

OK.  As a general topic, this is an area of heated debate in some circles as etiquette, like any other human social interaction, changes with the times and location. 

But the first Rule that is indisputable and critical, is DO NOT mess with a cowboy's hat.  I knew someone who, in a Texas bar, heard a man ask his cowboy friend "Can I try your hat on?".  The man just looked at him and said, "You wouldn't want me askin' to try on your underwear would you?  So don't ask to try on my hat."  A cowboy hat is a very personal, and sometimes very expensive,  item that you don't pass around.  In some places, to touch a man's hat without permission will get you pile-driven into the wall, you just don't do it.

Some standard, base-line points of etiquette:

  • Any time you enter a building, the hat should come off. 
  • If it is an informal occasion you may put it back on but for a formal occasion it should stay off.
  • When sitting down at a table for a meal, the hat should come off unless there is nowhere to safely lay the hat.
  • When sitting down at a counter for a meal, the hat can stay on.
  • Out on the range however, keep your hat on while you eat. If you take your hat off, another wrangler might step on it or spill food into the rim.

Now all of the above rules are frequently ignored or modified depending on the locale, the situation, the people etc.  So use your best judgment and if in doubt, stick to the above rules to be sure you're not offending anyone's sensibilities.

I've always thought there was something particularly elegant about the cowboy greeting, touching one's hand to the brim of one's hat.  A part of the origin of this was that when men would meet, moving the hand to the hat brim signaled friendly intentions by moving the hand away from the holster.  Tipping of the cowboy hat when meeting someone depends completely upon the situation but it does show good breeding and respect.

Here are some more formal etiquette guidelines from CountryCalendar.com that go a bit farther than the standard points above.  These are more old fashioned and you don't see this practiced in most areas to this degree.