Throughout the years, I’ve heard fellas talk about who ought to wear a cowboy hat and who shouldn’t. These conversations are littered with the necessary skills a cowboy must acquire to wear a western hat. Some even suggest issuing a license to wear such apparel.
Most livestock men and women tend to dislike things artificial – you know, things that really aren’t what they seem to be. They prefer the real deal, something genuine or steeped in the ranch or western tradition that came before them. They have a strong desire to keep things the way they are and pass them on to the next generation when they’re ready and able.
For starters any self-respecting cowpoke needs to know how to ride, rope and handle cattle. This skill set includes moving, doctoring, cutting and branding – you know if you can’t do most of these necessary cattle chores, maybe you shouldn’t wear the hat.
So who really should?
Anyone who wears a western hat must have spent time in the saddle. That’s a given.
So would a rancher who’s never set foot in a stirrup and only pitched hay be allowed to sport a cowboy hat?
Anyone who’s worked cattle with only chutes sure ought to be out of this discussion. Give ‘em a permit for operating equipment instead. And of course they’d have to wear a gray or blue striped shirt for being a mechanic when the chutes fell apart.
Sheep herders and auctioneers would be in a real fix. Especially, if the sheep people claimed the derby before the auctioneer called, “sold.”
Of course all those race car fans, heck let them wear ball caps. And if they want something different – wear ‘em with the bill facing forward.
All the rodeo fans and western cinema screen dreamers, not to mention museum-quality aficionados – no cowboy hats for them.
What about the old guys who run more cattle than a whole pack of coyotes’ fleas?
You know the ones with their short-brimmed Stetsons – they’d sure be sent packin.’
Oil barons, bums and anyone who wants to express some fashion statement about who they’d like to be, rather than who they really are, couldn’t wear a cowboy hat either.
Would these true-blue cowboys license only a Mexican sombrero or would they accept a flat-crowned, flat brimmed cover with a little old snap in front tied on with a string?
Sure, go on and license who you think should wear a western hat. It’s all about tradition and remember there ain’t no room for tolerance and those less than proficient or true as judged by a few.
As for me, I’ll be content to watch my old buddies sporting their headwear of choice – ole Dennis wearing his Nevada. Tim with his red bandana wrapped around his head. Bob in his 50-year-old Cattleman synched tight against the wind. Bryan whose hat looks like a mule sat on it since it was new and Sam in that farming seed corn cap; all intent on the task at hand.
Not one of these hats was ever judged by the crease. None pretty or traditionally wrapped – except in the one their dad’s taught them, “Get the job done.”
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.