There was no single "cowboy" hat that defined the 19th century American West. Hat styles were vast and varied, usually the remnants of former professions as groups of people moved westward. With each and every style of hat came many more variations and made from many different materials - from beaver felt to wool to silk to straw. Hat styles evolved out of necessity, and shapes of individual hats changed through longtime wear and personal handling.
Here are just a few hat styles that were commonly seen in the Old West:
Derby Hat (Bowler Hat)
The derby hat was the most popular hat of the American West amongst the working class. The hardened felt and rounded crown protected the head of the wearer from hard knocks and stayed put in a strong wind.
[Find Derby style hats at Old Frontier Clothing Company]
Topper Hat (Top Hat)
Top hats were originally popular amongst all social classes, and were worn by policemen, postmen, and workmen alike. Later in the 19th century top hats became associated with social respectability and were worn only by the upper class. Originally made from beaver felt, either the decrease in the population of beavers or changing fashion tastes in Europe led to top hats being manufactured from silk plush. In American history, the top hat has become iconic in it's association with assassinated president Abraham Lincoln.
[Find Topper style hats at River Junction Trade Company]
Boss of the Plains Hat
Also known as "The hat that won the West." The Boss of the Plains was an invention of necessity by hatter John Stetson, sold to a frontiersman for $5 (a steep price at the time), and then mass produced a year later. The Boss of the Plains had a high crown to insulate the top of the head, a wide, flat brim to keep sun and rain away from the face and shoulders, and was even waterproof for carrying water. They were durable and lightweight. Hats like these were an absolute necessity for drifters and cattlemen spending a long time out on the unforgiving plains of the American West.
[Find Boss of the Plains style hats at River Junction Trade Company]
Classic Cattleman Hat
Creased down the center with dents on either side. This is the hat that most resembles the modern cowboy hat of today.
The Sombrero is the traditional south of the border hat with a wide brim. The word "sombrero" literally means "shade maker". There were two main variations - one with a high, conical shaped crown, the other with a flat topped crown adopted by the vaquero that was more suitable for ranch work.
[Find South of the Border style hats at River Junction Trade Company]
Montana Peak Hat (Campaign Hat)
Montana Peak hats are similar in style to the sombrero, with a high, dented crown. These hats are often associated with the military of the 19th century. Although not military issue at the time, troops preferred to wear more practical civilian hats rather than shako or kepi hats. The pinched "Montana peak" was a result of modifications to keep rain water from collecting in the top crease of the hat.
[Find Montana Peak style hats from River Junction Trade Company]
Slouch Hat (Kossuth Hat)
Also known as the Kossuth Hat, named after Lajos Kossuth, this is a wide brimmed felt hat with chinstrap, typically of military issue. One side is pinned up to the side of the crown, the other side "slouches".
[Find Slouch style hats from River Junction Trade Company]
Whatever hat you choose to buy for Cowboy Action Shooting, don't be afraid to really make it your own - wear it, handle it, alter it to your liking, and just get it dirty! To be authentic looking your hat needs to be well distressed and broken in. Your hat should be an extension of you, scarred and weathered, and able to tell stories about where you've been and the adventures that you've had.
In the link list below you'll find some of the best places where you can buy great Old West hats.
Wild West Mercantile
The Old Frontier Clothing Company
River Junction Trade Company
Tonto Rim Trading Company