Look beyond the amazing bull rider for just a second. See all those cowboys behind him? Each one has a different hat and a different shape, and every cowboy has a different reason for liking his hat's shape. Some just like the way it looks. Others like theirs for functional purposes. For example, a taller crown holds more air, keeping a cowboy's head warm. The shape of the brim can direct rain away from his sightline.
A cowboy hat isn’t just something that sits on your noggin keeping the sun, rain and snow off. It says something about you. It’s a personal statement — an emblem you wear with pride. Or at least it is to some folks, like cowboys (in real life and in the movies). In the old days, working cowboys could often tell what ranch a cowboy was from just by looking at the crease in the crown of his hat.
Gary Cooper, the Hollywood icon from Helena, Montana, who starred in the classic High Noon, knew the importance of a good cowboy hat. So did John Wayne – ya better believe it, pilgrim! Blair Barthelmess, Murdoch’s boot and hat specialist in Bozeman, knows how important they are, too. Here are her starting tips:
Think of cowboy hat shaping in baseball cap terms. If you’re a professional baseball player, you’re going to be pretty particular about the cap you wear for game day. Same thing goes for rodeo competitors and ranchers: they’re going to spend the time getting their more expensive hat just right, whether they do it themselves or pay a professional to do it for them. If you just like to wear baseball caps, you’ll still prefer a flat bill or a curved, shaped bill, but you probably won’t spend time and money getting it exactly perfect, like a pro would.
The composition of your hat will make it easier or harder to work with. A more expensive, higher quality felt hat has more X’s on the label. It’s typically easier to shape because it’s made with beaver and rabbit fur. The X’s indicate the fur content.
A less expensive hat will have wool in it. For our demo, we used Bailey’s Wichita XX wool blend pre-shaped hat. It comes with a traditional cattleman crown. Compared to other cowboy hat options on the market, this one was more difficult to re-shape because of its higher wool content. We DIY re-shaped the crown into a pinch front crown.
The best thing about this DIY project is that you really can’t ruin your hat. Hats are made to be shaped, re-shaped, and shaped again because they can lose their shape over time, depending on how they’re treated.
In reality, you can shape your hat almost any way you want. There isn’t a right or a wrong way, but there are some traditional or typical shapes. Although we don’t offer hat shaping at Murdoch’s, we can tell you how to do it yourself. It’s truly an art, not a science. Here ya go, pardner.
How to shape a felt hat
- Boil a pot of water – a teakettle works best if you have one. A clothing steamer can also work.
- When the water is steaming hot, slip on some gloves or grab some tongs to hold your hat. It gets really hot!
- Move your hat in and out of the steam until the felt becomes warm and soft. Focus on the area you want to shape (brim, side, crown). We recommend starting with the brim because it’s easiest to hold the hat from the crown.
- Once it’s malleable, gently roll or massage the hat into the shape you want. Do it soon before it cools off, then continue until you have it how you like.
- After your hat has cooled (but is still soft), put it on so it will shape to your head.
- Don’t worry. If you don’t get it the way you want you can always boil more water and start again.
- Don’t forget one important thing: turn off the stove when done.
Hats off to ya!