Cowboy Hat 101: How to Create the Perfect Look

Cowboy Hat 101: How to Create the Perfect Look

Use these cowboy hat shaping and cleaning tips to make your hat look as sharp as your ride.
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The cowboy hat is an iconic symbol of the American West. It represents the work and dedication that built the American dream - the same work and dedication that you put into being an American Quarter Horse owner. Hours spent in the practice pen and days agonizing over plans to improve your American Quarter Horse’s performance all go into the preparation it takes to compete. 

You don’t cut corners practicing, and you shouldn’t with your appearance, either. It’s well known that a good hat helps finish the professional look we all strive for in the arena. No cowboy hat is exactly the same, but it’s easy to find a hat that’s perfect for you, depending on your preferred corner of the barn.


Before you purchase a cowboy hat, you need to know what you’re getting for your money. Determining the quality of a hat comes down to a few basic guidelines: softness, color, density and squeeze. These criteria all contribute to the X-factor. Its origins are disputed, but one fact remains consistent: the higher the number of X’s, the better the hat. A higher number of X’s means that the hat contains a higher percentage of beaver, which makes the hat softer, more durable and more flexible. Felt hats commonly use a combination of beaver, rabbit and wool. Try to avoid lower X hats, as they contain more wool and won’t last as long.

Your appearance is just one of the many important pieces of a winning performance. Find the latest hands-on training and show trend articles from leading professionals in The American Quarter Horse Journal. Subscribe today and begin making your way to the winners circle!

Shape Master Hatters cowboy hats tip

Once you purchase a quality cowboy hat, it needs to be shaped properly. Two factors are crucial in choosing your ideal hat shape; first, the event you compete in, and second, the shape of your face.

Halter, western pleasure, showmanship and horsemanship are events that require an overall crisp appearance from exhibitors. In these classes, an exhibitor’s hat brim should be extremely straight, with no dip in the front. The crown should be creased fairly narrow, and vents on the side are pulled out a little longer.

Other classes like cutting and reining aren’t as strict and lean more toward a relaxed look. Cutters usually have a lower crown, and the brim is laid out more flat. Reiners generally shape Master Hatters cowboy hat tipstheir hats to fall in between the cutter and the show crease. Versatility ranch horse classes have not developed a definite trend, but they are more similar to reiners, but with a softer front and higher sides.

When distinguishing your face shape in relation to your hat, the basic rule of thumb is; a narrower face should have a narrower crown with the edges tipped up more than average; and a more round face should sit a little lower with the sides not tipped up quite as high.

Storage and Care

You have your hat and are ready to ride, but how do you care for it? Whether your hat is straw or felt, you want to make it last long and stay looking sharp.

Master Hatters cowboy hat tipsHat cans are great for both straw and felt hats to reduce the dust that settles on them. A hat can also protects a hat from damage caused by traveling or sitting out in the open where it can be crushed or stepped on.

Felt hats are susceptible to losing their shape from moisture. Avoid storing a felt hat in a plastic bag, and try to keep it from getting wet. If your felt hat does get wet, let it sit out to dry away from the sun and out of the hat can. Make sure it is completely dry before brushing it; otherwise, you will rub in dirt rather than remove it. You can use either a soft-bristle brush or a felt hat cleaning sponge. To make your felt hat last, plan on getting it professionally creased about twice a year so it will maintain its shape. Remove it from the hot horse trailer when you’re done showing. This’ll aid in keeping the shape.

Master Hatters cowboy hat tipsStraw hats aren’t meant to last like felt, but with proper care, you can enjoy your straw hat for a long time. You can clean off dust with a mild cleaner on a rag. Sweat stains are difficult to get out, so the best action is to be proactive against stains. Help prevent sweat from soaking through the sweat leather by lining the inside of the band with a piece of plastic wrap. This also works for light-colored felt hats.

The cowboy hat is a symbol of the American West and the work ethic required to settle it. It has become more than just a tool to shade men and women from long hours in the sun. It is a symbol of our western heritage and the lifestyle we love.

Your outfit is complete, now are you and your horse ready for the show? Find insightful tips from industry leaders every month in The American Quarter Horse Journal. Increase your horse show know-how by subscribing today!

Master Hatters of Texas

Master Hatters cowboy hat tipsWhen you step into the show arena, there is only one thought on your mind: success. When choosing the right hat, there needs to be one brand on your mind: Master Hatters of Texas. Purchase your AQHA Master Hatters Hat at Smith Brothers.

Master Hatters of Texas has manufactured hats that provide quality, comfort and function since 1968. Based in Garland, Texas, Master Hatters is committed to making the finest quality straw, wool and fur felt hats in the industry. Master Hatters embraces technology in many ways to better serve AQHA members with a product that fits their demands and with service that is above reproach. The folks at Master Hatters explain, "We sell ourselves with each hat," and the company prides itself on its just-in-time shipping.