Whether you're looking to make a fashion statement or just protect yourself from the sun, we've got the hat for you.
By Gibbs Milliken
The traditional western hat has helped shape the popular image of Texas and Texans for more than a century. Worn to function like a hands-free umbrella, the wide brim is intended for protection from the intense sun, rain, wind and cold in hostile climates.
In the fall and winter, it is traditional to wear a felt hat in off-white, black or gray. The quality of these hats is determined by the amount of fur content indicated on the interior hat-liner by a series of X's. The higher the X-count, the better the grade of hat. The best felt hats, in years past, were of pure beaver fur, which has become very expensive. Most brands are now made with blends of soft beaver and rabbit fur. The Stetson "Bowie" is a fine 6X western felt classic and is appropriate wear for formal occasions or the most rugged outdoor activities. At the time of purchase, it should be steamed and carefully shaped by a skilled hatter for custom styling. ($235, Bowie Felt, color: silver belly, Stetson, (972-494-7116, www.stetsonhat.com)
For the warmest days of spring, summer and early fall, a wide-brim hat made of tightly woven straw is the most popular. The lighter body and color reflects heat and is more comfortable when not tightly fitted. To prevent loss, attach a chin lanyard with sliding keeper for windy conditions. Originally they were constructed of natural toquilla straw and misnamed "Panama" hats. These were handmade in the Monte Christi region of Ecuador. Now, they are mostly woven in Mexico or Asia of a smooth fiber known as shantung. Many people believe that shantung hats are of natural straw. It is actually made from a high-performance paper that is sealed and rolled into a flat yarn to imitate straw. One such hat, assembled in the United States, is the distinctive cowboy style Stetson Jackson Straw. It features an 8X quality body, eyelet crown vents, bound edge 4-inch brim, and smooth water resistant finish. The newest Stetson for 2008 is a Breezeway 50X Shantung with an open-weave Milan crown that rapidly discharges heat. Also adding comfort is its special wick-away sweatband of soft Dri-Lex material. This is an ideal hat choice for keeping a "cool head" even on the hottest days. ($72, Jackson 8X Straw. $105, Breezeway 50X Straw, Stetson)
Texas hats of the "third kind" are correctly known as "fashion hats." In recent years they have become popular with fans of country music, rodeo crowds, sportsmen and tourists. They may be purchased in either wool felt or rough woven straw that is often made to look well worn from the start by artificially soiled sweatbands, dents and stains. They are inexpensive to medium priced, with lots of personality provided by fancy hatbands of feathers, conchos, bone or bead decorations. Their wire-framed brims are easily shaped and bent to taste. These funky fashion statements are sold in a myriad of colors and styles. The one shown is the Stetson La Brea of ventilated Mexican Raffia. It has a 3-1/2-inch brim, pinch-front crown and thick grosgrain ribbon band with a silver longhorn medallion flanked by three bone beads on either side. ($44, La Brea Raffia Straw, Stetson)
Bill caps have become such universal outdoor wear that it is difficult to identify any as distinctly Texan unless you read the logo. Shown is one from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Operation Game Thief Program. The purchase of a basic membership includes the hat, with all proceeds going to the preservation of Texas wildlife. A second is the ExOfficio Buzz Off Bill Cap made of light fast-drying nylon with a neck-cape for sun and bug protection. The flap can be tucked inside when not needed or worn dipped in water for extra cooling on the neck. ($25, TP&W Member Cap, Color: Beige, (512-389-4800, www.tpwd.state.tx.us) ($28, Buzz Off Cap, Color: Cigar, ExOfficio, 800-644-7303, www.exofficio.com)