Iconic cowboy riding a bucking bronco on the range at sunset.

New Rules of Cowboy Hat Etiquette

Last updated by Ori Adler on

A cowboy hat is iconic. And so is cowboy hat etiquette. Both are symbolic of the Americans who settled the wild west. The wranglers who tamed the wide-open spaces. These were the men who brought their own shade to the great plains by wearing cowboy hats.

But they were not without manners. Cowboys address women as ma'am, They greet men with a firm handshake. In fact, the classic Western greeting, according to Emily Post, author of The Principles of Etiquette

In this guide, we examine the unwritten etiquette of the cowboy hat.

How to Wear a Cowboy Hat

Cowboy hats themselves are legendary. They have been around so long that there are a few unwritten rules about how and when to wear them. Here's what you need to know to wear a cowboy hat to the rodeo, beach, or two-stepping at the bar without being a poser.

Can Anybody Wear a Cowboy Hat?

Sure, anyone can wear a cowboy hat. But since real cowboys are uncommon outside rural areas, city folk wear them for their rough and rugged style, rather than practicality.

Western hats styles don't tend to impact etiquette much. Whether you're wearing a Gus or a cattleman crease, the same rules apply.

And most cowboy hats styles and shapes are fairly similar. They all have wide brims, so they work well for blocking the sun or keeping you dry in the rain. Plus, they have tall crowns, so they make you look taller.

Cowgirl hats and cowboy hats brim shapes are similar too. But websites that sell cowboy hats tend to feature men and women wearing the exact same western hat styles. That way, it's easier for men and women to pictured themselves in them.

Cowboy Hats and Respect

Cowboys and cowboy hats demand respect. There are times you should remove your hat as a sign of respect, which we’ll discuss later.

Overall, you need to recognize that the hat brings a certain level of reverence and personality. It’s often easy to tell the difference between people who wear a cowboy hat for fun and those who are serious about it.

When wearing one around the latter, you need to follow the cowboy hat etiquette we outline in this guide. For example, taking off your hat when meeting someone for the first time shows respect for that person. Otherwise, you could wind up offending them.

Another way to show respect to your hat is to remove it by the crown. Then, hold it with the interior facing down so that no one can see the inner lining. When storing your hat, you want to place it upside down as to not affect the brim.

Finally, don't touch or try on someone else’s cowboy hat without their permission. It’s more than an accessory - it’s a personal item that holds a lot of historical and traditional significance. Cowboy hats are often considered an extension of their owner’s personality and style.

Cowboy Hat Color Rules

Light colors reflect sunlight while darker ones absorb it. In temperate climates, most people wear a natural straw hat in the spring and summer and a darker felt hat in fall and winter. However, it depends on your preference and the weather.

Darker cowboy hats are more popular on formal occasions. Dark brown, gray, and black cowboy hats are popular choices at formal events.


When to Wear Cowboy Hats

As a general rule, you should wear a cowboy hat outside, but take it off inside (except in informal situations).

Otherwise, a cowboy hat works for everyday use all year round. That said, there are some recommendations regarding when you should remove your hat and how to wear it in different situations.

Knowing When to Remove Your Hat

The most common situations to remove your hat include:

  • During the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance
  • While in church or praying
  • Meeting someone for the first time
  • While attending an indoor funeral or wedding

  • Wearing Cowboy Hats in Public

    In the old days, people used to remove their hats indoors. However, on informal occasions, they kept them on. Nevertheless, removing your hat when meeting someone for the first time is an impressive display of chivalry. In the Old West, cowboy hat etiquette meant men tipped their hats for women only.

    But, there's a disappearance of stereotypes and people adopting more gender-fluid norms. So, tipping your hat to a woman and not men in more progressive communities might be construed as sexist.

    When taking off your hat, be sure to pull it off by the crown instead of the brim. And if you’re taking it off in a solemn situation, hold your hat over your heart.

    When to Tip a Cowboy Hat

    As mentioned earlier, in the code of the Old West, men would only tip their hats to women, not other men. That said, tipping your hat can be a sign of respect.

    So, it makes sense to do it as a way of acknowledging someone important. A hat tip is a silent way of showing respect between cowboys.

    Wearing a Cowboy Hat in Texas

    While many Texans don't wear cowboy hats, those who do take cowboy hat etiquette seriously. If you're going to wear one of these hats in the Lone Star State, mind your manners. Also, be aware of the type of cowboy hat crease you’re wearing.

    As we'll discuss next, there are specific seasons when to wear a straw or felt cowboy hat. Similarly, you want to pair your hat with the right clothing. In most situations, your other accessories will be a hardy pair of Wrangler jeans and a set of cowboy boots.

    Straw vs Felt Cowboy Hat Seasons

    The two primary types of cowboy hats. They are straw cowboy hats and felt cowboy hats, but we make leather cowboy hats. Knowing when to wear both will help you stay fashionable and comfortable all year long.

    For example, wearing a felt hat during the summer will cook your head. A felt hat will also make you stand out from the other authentic wearers, who will all likely be wearing straw.

    When Does Felt Hat Season Start?

    Technically, the felt cowboy hat season begins after Labor Day. However, felt hats are often worn for formal occasions. So, if you're attending one during the summer, it makes sense to wear felt, even though the weather is hotter. Felt hat season runs until May (or Memorial Day, if you want a specific date).

    Can You Wear Straw Hats in the Winter?

    Since straw hats are more informal, they are appropriate to wear every day. The only downside to wearing a straw hat in the winter is that your head gets cold quicker, and the rain seeps through.

    When to Wear Leather Cowboy Hats

    Leather cowboy hats are warm, so they work great all year round, but especially so in Fall and Winter months. Also, leather hats have a much different appearance and aesthetic, which is rugged and informal.

    Cowboy Hat Superstitions

    Since cowboy hats are considered a very personal accessory, many superstitions have arisen over the decades about how and when to wear them.

    Some folks treat their cowboy hat as an extension of themselves so much that they feel naked when they remove their hat. Here are instances where cowboy hat superstitions may come into play.

    How to Set Your Hat Down

    Ideally, you’d hang your hat on a hat rack whenever you're not wearing it. However, if you’re going to set it down for a short period, it’s best to put it brim side down.

    Doing this prevents another cowboy dumping their grub from the chuck wagon in it. The superstition is to always set your hat with the brim side down.

    Setting Hats on Beds

    According to legends, setting a cowboy hat on a bed invites bad luck and evil spirits into the home. Why tempt fate? Keep cowboy hats away from beds.

    Wearing Cowboy Hats Backwards

    For the uninitiated, it's easy to wear a cowboy hat backward on accident, but according to superstitions, it’s bad luck. If there’s a buckle, feather plume tucked under the band, or other adornments, they should be on the left side.

    The hatband is often tied on the left. Some hats will have a knot, which will sit at the rear. Otherwise, the front is narrower than the back. Use the manufacturer’s label in the interior sweatband to determine the front from the rear.

    Bottom Line About Cowboy Hat Etiquette

    Cowboy hats are different than other headgear, such as baseball caps or fedoras. These hats have a long and storied history. Knowing the proper etiquette to wear them will set you apart from drugstore and urban cowpokes.

    Now that you’ve learned cowboy etiquette, you’re ready to buy a men’s cowboy hat or a women’s cowboy hat and wear it with reverence.

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    • I was raised all over Texas. Different parts seemed to have different rules. North and South and East Texas would swap their felts for straw. I went to high school. At Hereford a lot of us wore felts the year round because the wind blew year round and being in the desert it could get pretty cool in the evenings.

      Ricky Stokes on
    • Your expert opinion on how to set a Gus crown on a table. Seems to me if it’s crown down it would rock forward.

      Tom on
    • I have been wearing cowboy hats as far back as I remember and I’m 68. I don’t ever put my hats on a bed. Just never have. Taught by old cowboys to never do it. Set your hat on its crown or on an edge where brim hangs over. I wear black hats in winter. Any sun warms your gourd. I have a white Stetson that gets some use in Spring time when the straws come out. Sadly, straws have been getting more and more expensive . I’m in Colorado. Great mountain/Plains ranching country!

      Martin Versteeg Knifechief on
    • I moved to Texas in 1993 and eventually bought three hats. One felt Stetson, one felt other brand (forget brand) and a straw Stetson. I like them all but found the straw Stetson – wearing it is like having a fan on my head. Wow, the air and wind go through it so good to cool me off. I also found the brim of these hats to really help me out in controlling sunlight on my eyes. I was a bit apprehensive when I first moved here to wear these hats but found them very useful and a pleasure to wear. Texas is a great place for Cowboy hats.

      David Schlewitz on
    • Leather Hats are NOT Cowboy Hats !

      Steve Carpenter on
    • Set the hat on its crown is correct. Saves the brim. At a restaurant, put the hat in the chair next to you. Do Not ever touch another man’s hat without permission !!!

      Steve Carpenter on
    • As someone who buckarooed about 80% of my life I might add a few things to this. You always took your lid off when entering another mans house. Always set it down on the crown. Unless your lid was of the flat brimmed type otherwise you’ll screw up the slope of that brim. Only ones I knew to were a straw were rodeo hands, dudes, and farmers. Old adage of never hire a man that wore a straw, bib overalls and rolled his own. Always trying to catch his hat, hitching up his overalls or rolling a cigarette.

      Thomas on
    • I love all of my hats and boots. Don’t wear a cowboy hat without boots. Set your hat down in whatever way best protects your brim. If its a warm day in the winter and you feel like a straw, you do you. There are some very sturdy straws out there, like a palm leaf. Cowboy Strong baby!

      Arthur Spain on
    • Do women have to remove the hat at dinner sitter in a restaurant?

      Deb on
    • ANDY,hey buddy if you a find a cowboy hat you like, then buy and wear it till it falls off lol. Real cowboys aren’t rude about hats, unless you wear it backwards.. that’s a no no. I’m from New Mexico and I’ll let in on a secret.. you can also wear a straw or felt hat anytime of year.. reason being felt hats are expensive and most cowboys aren’t gonna throw 300$at a felt when the buy a 50$ straw hat that does the same thing lol. Idk where this cowboy hat etiquette comes from bit I assure half of it is Bull Sh!te lol…

      Mitch on
    • My dad always told me treat your hat like a lady. And you’ll enjoy the years with it. I have several and they still look as good as new

      Andrew Acosta on
    • Although I was born in England, I’m actually classed as 6th generation Californian. I now live in Texas and have always had a healthy respect for the cowboy hat or Stetson. However I’m in a bit of a quandary. I would very much like to adopt this hat as my preferred headgear but I do not wish to offend or disrespect it’s traditions. Can anyone please give me some advice.

      Andy on
    • Thoroughly enjoyed your article.
      Long time Hat Wearer& Biker.
      Great Tradition!

      Paul on
    • I just wanted to make a comment that states, a guy in a cowboy hat, is SUPER sexy. However, when you see a guy in a straw or very light colored hat, I think it’s gross when the brim of the hat is stained with sweat over halfway up the to the top! I understand that here in Texas (yes I live in Texas), cowboy hats are very prominant here in San Antonio, but if you did not work that day, wearing that particular hat out in public just does not look good on you. I can just imagine how gross and sweaty your hair must be. Especially if it’s early in the morning and by the look of your clothes, you look all fresh and nice, but the look (and permeating smell) of your cowboy hat is very displeasing. My advierte to you is, have more thanone hat. A hat for when you are out working hard, and a seperate hat for when you are off. Sorry about all the rambling. It’s 4:44 am and just got my dad ready for dialysis and came across this story.

      Sandra on
    • Is this a typo? “Leather hats are warm, so it’s best to wear them when it’s too hot.” I bought a leather hat and not sure when.. it was hot In the summer and your response it wear it when it’s too hot. Will the cold destroy the leather if I wear it in the winter?

      Victor T Johnson on
    • Gus Philpott I guess that shows that Texas cowboys are more respectful than Arizona cowboys.

      Rusty on
    • I have worn a cowboy since I was knee hi to a grasshopper. Raised on a ranch.

      Domingo on
    • To Gus Philpott: That waitress was so wrong for telling you that. You were everything correctly. That was very rude of her to say that.

      Rhonda Moilanen on
    • Yes sir that’s the old school Cowboy Way!! In this time a lot of it’s been forgotten.

      Felix Mireles jr on
    • I was brought up to believe you never wore a white hat after September. Black hats until.spring

      Jeff Whitehouse on

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