New Rules of Cowboy Hat Etiquette

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

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

An unassuming cowboy strumming his guitar out back in a felt 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.

Cowboys bedding down on the range in ten gallon felt cowboy hats.

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.

Cowboy hats for women and men's cowboy hat 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.

Modern day cowboy in a low crown Gucci cowboy hat.

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.

Cowboy in a classic Stetson wrangling cattle at a stream crossing in the wild west.

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 greets the sunrise in a distressed leather cowboy hat.

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. 

Cowboy hats are distinctly American hats. This cowboy wears a gambler style cowboy hat.

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

Even urban cowboys remove their cowboy hats for solemn moments.

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

A young boy tips his black cowboy hat in a nod to the timeless, mysterious, legend of the lonesome cowboy.

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

Cowboy hat etiquette suggests tipping your hat as a way of acknowledging others.

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

In temperate climates, cowboys tend to wear men's straw cowboy hats March through August.

The two primary types of cowboy hats are straw and felt, but we make leather cowboy hats, which are similar to Australian outback 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

 Men's leather cowboy hats are most popular September through February.

Leather hats are warm, so it’s best to wear them when it’s too hot. 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. 

Father and son wearing straw cowboy hats on horseback.

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

A young cowboy and cowgirl wearing cowboy hats out into the sunset.

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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