The classic image sees them donning a Stetson but cowboys would actually simply wear whatever hat was to hand - they could often be seen riding with sea-captains’ caps or straw hats. However their hat of choice was the bowler hat, or (as it’s known in the US) the derby.
The derby, made by the London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler, was actually designed for riding. It was tough and squat, to protect the heads of mounted gamekeepers from low-hanging branches. This practicality and strength made it popular amongst cowboys.
Only a small fraction of the population of the West (largely in Texas) wore a Stetson or other variety of wide-brimmed shade hat. The myth that the Stetson was ubiquitous began with the artist Frederic Remington who specialised in depictions of the West.
One other odd derby adoption is in South America. After British railway workers were seen wearing the hat in Peru and Bolivia in the 1920s, Quechua and Aymara women adopted it as part of their national dress, renaming it the bombin.
A 10-gallon hat only holds around three-quarters of a gallon (3.4 litres). One theory suggests that the term ‘10 gallon’ is a corruption of the Spanish term galón or galloon, a type of narrow braided trimming around the crown. Another says that it came about because the tight weave of most Stetson hats made them so waterproof that they could be used as a bucket.
A politician should have three hats. One for throwing into the ring, one for talking through, and one for pulling rabbits out of if elected.
The mercury used in the preparation of felt for hats led to the apparent symptoms of lunacy in many 19th century hatters. Hence, the expression ' mad as a hatter'.
Why people don’t wear hats any more? The story you get from the Hat Museum in Stockport is that people stopped wearing hats after the Second World War due to the proliferation of the motor car; the roof of a car is too low and people didn't walk around as much so didn't need to keep their heads warm. They also claim that hats were an unwelcome reminder of the time people had spent in uniform.
However the dates for the rise of the car and the fall of the hat don’t correlate very closely, and a 1947 survey for the Hat Research Foundation found that although 19% of men who did not wear hats gave 'because I had to in the army' as their answer, 17% of those who did wear hats gave 'got used to it in the army' as theirs.
At the time the hat industry thought hatlessness was nothing but a passing fad. Newspaper reports of 1948 bemoaned the new 'barehead' fashion. They were mystified as to where it came from, considering that from their own research, 84% of women preferred men in hats. It was scary, though; hat manufacturers exhorted their workers to set a good example by eschewing the 'No Hat' Craze, and people walking bareheaded through the hat-making towns of Denton and Stockport would be verbally abused by factory workers who could see their livelihoods disappearing.
The RSPB began as a number of anti-plumage lobbies who acted as anti-fur people do today. They would go to church on a Sunday, make a list of any woman who was wearing a feather in her hat, and send them insulting letters telling them they were supporting animal cruelty. Eventually the factions joined and created the RSPB.
The American Audubon Society has similar origins: at the turn of the 19th/20th century the fashion in New York was for highly decorative hats ornamented with egret and heron feathers, owl heads, and whole hummingbirds. Women’s hats became a symbol of decadence and Audubon Societies, mostly started by women, were established in many of America’s cities to lobby for bird protection legislation.
It’s the Audubon-sponsored 1913 Tariff Act which would prevent the import of a shrunken head if it was decorated with feathers. In the 1880s at least 5 million wild American birds were killed annually for hat trimmings. The Ostrich Feather industry was enormous and investors threw money at it. In 1914, the bubble burst – due to the change in fashion and, according to some, anti-Semitism against the Jewish interests that ran the feather industry.
The South African Ostrich farm business went into serious recession, bankruptcies proliferated and thousands lost their savings. Thankfully a lesson was learned and the over-reliance on credit and the belief that a commodity will never, ever lose value would never haunt finance again.
A good Panama hat should be able to be rolled up, passed through a napkin ring and still be re-shaped perfectly.
In hat-making, an Aberdeenshire head is a particularly big one.
In China green hats signify cuckold. The two phrases sound similar (dài lǜmàozi) so have become linked.
Cock your hat - angles are attitudes.
Koksmuts is the Dutch for a chef's hat.
Bolivia produces more than 100 different varieties of hat.
When William Morris became a socialist he sat on his top hat to mark his resignation from the board of his family's copper mine.