Cowboy Hats

A Guide to Cowboy Hat Etiquette

“A Guide to Cowboy Hat Etiquette,” is your go-to resource for understanding the nuances of cowboy hat culture and ensuring you’re not just wearing a hat, but truly embracing the spirit and tradition it represents.

While the cowboy hat holds a special place in the hearts of enthusiasts and is an iconic symbol of the Wild West, there are unwritten rules and customs associated with Cowboy Hat Etiquette.

In the world of cowboy hat etiquette, there is one indisputable and critical rule: DO NOT mess with a cowboy’s hat.

Cowboy Hat Etiquette

Understand the Ins and Outs of Cowboy Hat Etiquette

This iconic headwear is not only a fashion statement but also a deeply personal and often expensive item. It is considered disrespectful to pass someone’s hat around or touch it without permission. In fact, in some regions, such actions can result in severe consequences like being hog-tied to a tree. It’s a rule you simply don’t break.

Beyond this crucial guideline, there are some standard points of cowboy hat etiquette that serve as a baseline for proper behavior. Whenever you enter a building, it is customary to remove your hat as a sign of respect. For informal occasions, you may put your hat back on, but for formal events, it should remain off throughout the gathering.

When you sit down at a table for a meal, it is considered proper etiquette to take off your hat, unless there is no safe place to lay it. However, when sitting at a counter, such as in a diner or saloon, it is acceptable to keep your hat on.

Out on the range, a different rule applies. While enjoying a meal in an open setting, it is advisable to keep your hat on. Removing it may lead to accidental damage or food spilling onto the hat’s brim, which can be messy and disrespectful.

Some standard, base-line points of cowboy hat 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.

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.

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.

When to remove your cowboy hat

  • During the National Anthem, Pledge of Allegiance, the Passing of the Flag, In Church, during a Prayer, an indoor Wedding, a Funeral (indoors) or at the “passing” of a casket in a funeral procession. Hold your hat in the left hand with your right hand over your heart. You may also hold your hat in your right hand, followed by holding your hat over your heart. Either way is acceptable.
  • When you are introduced to a woman. If warranted, remove your hat (by the crown) with your left hand so that you may shake her hand with your right.
  • This should also apply to anyone who is your Elder or a “Man of the Cloth”. In other words, the Clergy, Pastor, Priest, etc.
  • When you begin a conversation with anyone; but not needed if your just saying “hello” as you pass them.
  • It is generally considered, to always remove your hat while in a private home. * Unless others are wearing their hat/s. It is then considered to be at the blessing of your host or hostess.
  • Always remove your hat by the crown. *Some people do use their brim, but the brim must be strong. Do not use the edge of the brim. Removing the hat by the crown is the most customary.
  • If you need to adjust your hat, do so by the crown.
  • Never lay a cowboy hat down on the brim. Place your hat on it’s crown, brim up. You may also use a hat stand or rack.
  • Never show the inside of of your hat. The hat band, and the inside of the crown should not be in or for public view.
  • Your hat should always be removed while dining in a restaurant. *Unless, you’re in fast food restaurant.

Wear the right cowboy hat for the right season.

Not only is it impractical to wear a felt hat in the middle of summer, it’ll make you look kinda silly, too. Felt hats will leave your head all hot and bothered, and spotting a felt hat in July is an easy way to separate the tourists from the true cowboys. Stick to straw hats once the weather heats up, and felt hats when it cools off.

Buy the right cowboy hat size.

Nothin’ looks funnier than a fella in a hat that’s the wrong size for him. Too big, and it’s liable to blow off in a light breeze. Too small, and you’ll look squeezed into the crown (and you’ll be uncomfortable to boot). For guidance finding the right size cowboy hat, you can refer to our hat sizing chart.

Take your cowboy hat off when you’re indoors.

Another key to being a proper cowboy is to remove your hat when you go inside. Elevators, lobbies, and building corridors are an exception to this rule, but once you’re in a room with other folks you should remove your hat, especially if there’s a lady present.

Hold your hat the right way.

The way you handle, wear and remove your hat speaks volumes about your respect for this iconic symbol. One crucial aspect to remember is that when you take off your cowboy hat, always grasp it by the crown, not the brim. Holding your hat in this manner ensures that the lining remains hidden, preserving the hat’s aesthetic and demonstrating your knowledge of cowboy hat etiquette.

When you set your hat down, put it upside down.

When you leave your hat on a flat surface or put it away in a hat box, set it upside down. This lets the hat air out and keeps the brim’s shape intact. (Plus, there’s an old cowboy superstition that says all the luck will run out if you set the hat brim-side down!)

Never mess with another cowboy’s hat.

Understanding Cowboy Hat Etiquette is crucial when you immerse yourself in the cowboy culture. It is important to remember that a cowboy’s hat is more than just a fashion statement; it’s a part of their identity. This is why the rule of thumb is, ‘never mess with another cowboy’s hat.’ This piece of headgear is regarded as a very personal property, and interfering with it could lead to unnecessary trouble. So, ensure that you respect cowboy hat etiquette and leave the cowboy hats where they belong – on their owners’ heads.

By understanding and adhering to these cowboy hat etiquette guidelines, you demonstrate your appreciation for the traditions and customs associated with this iconic headwear.

Show respect for others’ hats, know when to remove or keep your hat on in different settings, and embody the true spirit of cowboy hat etiquette.