O.K.,this is a big,complicated subject and if one looks at various early catalogues one will see quite a variety of hats then and quite a few cowboys didn't wear hats that many would perceive as especially cowboy looking such as military style slouch hats,beehive crown hats.soft fur crusher hats railroad and pasha styles(much favored by fellows such as Wyatt Earp and Luke Short) etc.When we think "old west" we tend to envision a Stetson Boss of the Plains or a pencil roll kettle curled number if it was a little fancier.As for the fedora look they did indeed exist at that time but are definetly "over addressed" in current films.I intend to lay a bunch of original catalogue material on you folks-1888 Montgomery Ward,1899 Frank & Endel hat catalogue and a 1913 J.S. Shields hat catalogue.Many are pretty much what you'd expect but a few are eye openers!As for the fedora issue what we now call a Fedora was the original American name for the stately homburg!It was also known as a tourist or alpine hat.Starting in the 1890's a new snap brim version came into being called"the new fedora" as opposed to the more formal style!Confusing?You bet!With the passage of time terminology that was specifically understood in the 19th century to mean a particular item has changed,one example that comes to mind are spectacles as opposed to eyeglasses-specs have bows to fit the ears and glasses perch on the nose,yet everyone who now wears spectacles call them glasses and I frequently hear references to" pince nez spectacles" when referring to the Teddy Roosevelt nose glasses,presumably because it sounds more "old timey".That is just one example of how perceptions alter and we would experience some interesting communication confusion in a round robin with a few 19th century folks!Personally I like my cowboy hats to look like most every old west historian's perception of what ca. 1870-1900 traditional western hats look like.It is a little jarring to see something that seems best on Humphrey Bogart's noggin in an old west movie!I'LL rustle up those old catalogue pages for you all when I get a sane space in between all these period costume orders I'm currently plowing through !
When I did my second response this morning I wanted to thank you specifically .for the above kind words.With my college teaching and artsy craftsy backgrounds and a great love of history sharing information and lively discussion are paramount and there seem to be many really fun kindred spirits here.I hope to see you on here a lot!
There seems to be a line of thought that what cowboys wore (or didn't) is carved in stone someplace. These were just people... with certain tastes, (or not) 'same as now. I live here... 'Desert is the same now as it always was. I wear and use what works... 'n much of 'what works' is straight outta the 19th Century. This includes 'the hat'... (or hats).
I own a Stetson 'Boss of the Plains' and do not curl it. They only came in two shades... off white (bleached beaver) and medium brown... (beaver). No black. I reckon if somebody wanted a black hat they could have it dyed... but I doubt that was done much. The other hats I use are wide-brimmed felt slouches with a Montana crease and a BotP type in black. None are rolled, tilted, cocked or bent... not intentionally anyway. The round brims tend to take on an upward tilt in front as they are used... 'Plowing through mesquite will do that. The brims keep ya from gettin' your ears ripped off at 7mph as you lower your head at hit 'em top on. Cowboy crash helmets.
If you were to use your hat to haze stock... it would prob'ly take on a curl on that side. Since I use my left hand to rein with... the right side of my hat would prob'ly curl a bit. 'Not to say that cowboys wouldn't have some panache about 'em (especially in the towns to impress the ladies) but practicality and expense were real considerations. In my avitar... this gear is not for any 'show'. This is rough country and I dress for it. I suppose the 19th century cowboy was of a similar mind in the same sort of terrain.
Cody was 'theatrical' and overdone for a reason. His audience was at a distance. His rig had to 'look large'. Those from 'back east' took this as typical gear and copied it. Hell... his shows are the reason NDN's ride around in circles in the movies when they attack anything. It comes from being in an arena. NDN's came straight at you like any other cavalry... not ride around in circles in the open making targets out of themselves. They weren't stupid.
Great responses guys.Yes, hats do tend to curl on horseback.That used to happen to 17th century cavalier hats and some inspired but now unknown hatter lost to the accolades of history went along with the flow and turned it into the tricorne so popular from the latter 17th century right up to about 1800.By then people were so sick of the style that flat brims became popular again.Many of the hats worn by European horsemen,game wardens and other outdoorsy types in the 19th century had a front cock or curl as a popular style,shaped to give them the "horseback effect"!Now in America we had a melange of Euro and home developed style that easily gave us the biggest variety of hat styles of any culture.Pencil rolling and kettle curling have a very long history-one can see it on southern wide brim planter hats and other wide brim styles simply because it tends to stabilize the brims a bit and looks really good to boot!As for the modern cowboy hat style that was seared into our brains in countless movies and television shows I'm sure some niblick in Hellywood cranked one out on special order and all the other lemmings just had to start barrelling over the same stylistic cliff!I HATED THAT STYLE WHEN i WAS A KID AND STILL DO!(Note clever use of caps to show my passion on the subject!)
William had a great point about budget conscious cowboys-a Stetson was a big investment and the mail order companies had their own knock offs that sold for 30-50% less of very similar quality.The especially price conscious cowboy could even buy a saxony wool hat that was fairly durable,kept a reasonable shape and was very cheap,sometimes less than a dollar.Saxony wool was in very widespread use and is not to be confused with the modern poor grade melt in the rain variety!Now back to Hollyweird- it's not just hats- costuming in general in depictions of the old west suffered as well as utilizing inappropriate set and prop material that is either out of period anachronistic or invented!Unfortunately these have become a coda that has taken on a plutonium like half life.I have my own experience of parting creative company with these characters over such issues-one said"By God,I know what Westerners looked like!No one is interested in what you think was right!"So they get it 50-60% right because they all have to be auteurs expressing their creative inspiration by doing exactly what everyone else is doing!
Now-- about that modern fedora cowboy hat thing- they do look quite a bit like old military slouch hats and I think that was the inspiration back at the end of the nineteenth century too for the transition of the old fedora into a seperate branch of style.Well,this response is starting to look like a Russian novel so so long for now.
Actually, Indians did 'ride around in circles.' It was called the 'Comanche wheel,' and it was a very effective tactic. They simply circled their enemies, shooting into the center of the circle with bows or with firearms, until everything in the center of the circle was dead. They made head-on attacks only when the terrain dictated a head-on attack, as at Beecher's Island, or when the attack was sudden, as at LBH.
Mountain man tactics for resisting an attack dictated putting one's back against something impenetrable so they 'Comanche wheel' couldn't be developed. So long as the intruders were armed with muzzle-loaders, the 'Comanche wheel' was a very effective tactic. Once the Whites got repeating weapons or breechloaders, it was much less effective. Jack Hays' rangers were the first to break a 'Comanche wheel.' When his rangers were attacked in what is now Bandera County, Texas, Hays told his men to put their reins in their teeth and 'powderburn 'em!' Each ranger was armed with 2 Paterson Colt 5-shooters. They charged the wheel, shot their way thru it, then turned & charged again. The second charge broke the wheel & the Comanches headed for the tall & uncut.
I think I used to do the Comanche wheel in square dance class along with the Sioux two step!
Ijust re read your response and wanted to comment on hat colors.You noted off white(bleached beaver) and beaver(medium brown).These were referred to as belly beaver and back beaver back then and probably accounted for 80+% of western hat colors.There was an intermediate shade sometimes referred to as side beaver.Now hatters in the 19th century hauled up against beaver shortages from time to time so they started to use the South American nutria more and more and the color references in the old catalogues came to refer to belly nutria, side nutria and back nutria.Ihaven't been able to peg down yet at what point in time the term silverbelly came into being but is related.Oh, Idon't think too much bleaching was involved as sorted under hairs are pretty light naturally.I strongly suspect as you said that virtually no one resorted to dyeing his hat as that is a very uncertain process on an already blocked and finished hat but other makers supplied hats in different color ranges-black,stone,buckskin,dark blue andspeckled or mottled mixtures of light and dark grey or brown to name a few.Stetson set the standard that most everyone emulated color wise and other makers even used the model names.One can find dozens of hat makers that duplicated John Stetson's pioneering effort and he didn't seem to take too much umbrage over this piracy because he was certain that his product was the standard of the country.No one has done the definitive work on the American hat industry in the 19th century.Part of the trouble is that there has been so much muddying of terminology throughout much of the 20th century and Americans have a very poor record indeed of preserving industrial history so it is sometimes nearly impossible to get a couple of folks to agree when talking about the same thing.I've thought about doing that work myself but it would be years in assembling both company materials and early commercial catalogue resouces.It's a fascinating subject!