Cowboy Hat Etiquette: What You Should Already Know But Probably Don’t


So, you’re a cowboy and you already know the rules of properly wearing your cowboy hat. Well then, don’t read this; but then maybe you need a refresher course, so you probably should. When you read the word “hat” in this piece, please remember that I am referring to “cowboy hat.” A proper cowboy only refers to his cowboy hat as “hat.”

First, you really need five hats and it could take you a couple of years to get to the proper number. Here’s why.

The Felt. The felt hat starts out as your winter hat and also your formal dress-up hat in summer or winter. That’s the hat you wear  to meetings or downtown to dinner or dancing. The way I work my system is when the good hat gets a little floppy it then turns into my daytime go-to-town hat, so obviously after it gets more than floppy it becomes your work hat.

Now your work hat can be sweaty and dirty and you don’t worry too much about its shape. This is why it could take several years to get your formal hat, daytime downtown hat, and work hat.

The Straw. The straw starts out as your summer hat. This is for going downtown day or night as long as it isn’t a formal get-together like a wedding. Well, you might want to wear your straw hat in winter if it’s Arizona, Florida, Hawaii or Texas, but only if it’s real hot. So after it gets a little sweaty and dirty it turns into your work hat. Some folks like their straw hats to be bent in all directions. I don’t. In fact, I’ll wear a floppy felt hat but I like my straws to be in their original shape. So, like the felt hats, your second-best straw is your work hat.

I don’t like fancy hatbands. If you are buying a good quality hat you don’t need to add decorations. Well, maybe if you’re young and want a feather stuck in it that’s sometimes acceptable but older guys should just stick with the originals.

Now that you know which hat to use where, I’m going to tell you when they should be on or off. Always tip your hat to a lady, of course, and if you’re on an elevator and a lady gets on please take that hat off until she departs. You can wear your hat at the bar with a lady but never at the dinner table and certainly take your hat off when you go in the house, even your own.

If you think you have to have one of those plastic hat covers when it’s raining, then I suggest you just stay home or don’t wear the hat, or better yet get yourself an umbrella. But bear in mind I’ve never seen a self-respecting cowboy use an umbrella unless he’s escorting a lady down the street and then he’s holding it over her head and not his own.

If you need a stampede string (that’s the little string that connects to the hat and goes under your chin), then you probably didn’t buy a hat that fit right to begin with. There might be someplace on earth you would need a stampede string but I cannot think of where that might be. If your hat fits right then you just pull it down real tight around your ears and pray it doesn’t blow off or you’ll be ridiculed by every cowboy who sees you have to get off your horse and pick it up. Oh...if you can reach down and grab it while you’re still on your horse, that looks good—especially if there happens to be a pretty lady watching.

Now you know of course that we’re talking about cowboy hats and not caps. Caps have nothing to do with cowboys unless the cowboy is driving a tractor or bucking hay. Caps do not belong on your head when you are on a horse. The exception might be if you live in Montana and it’s 40 below. Note: If you want to wear sandals or tennis shoes then by all means wear your cap. It’s an absolute disgrace to a cowboy hat sitting on a head that has anything but boots on its feet.

If you follow these rules then my hat’s off to you. If not, call RANGE for one of theirs or go downtown and buy a cap.

One more thing: if you value your way of life do not ever put your hat on a bed. It’s just plain bad luck. Oh...the little black fedora is just in case you want to go incognito.

Sullivan’s feature on cowboy hat etiquette is featured in the current issue of RANGE magazine. A big THANK YOU to our friends at RANGE for allowing us to share this with our readers.