Q: For years, I have noticed country music superstar Tim McGraw (and others) wearing a straw hat that appears to be spray-painted black. Surely, he can afford an 8X Stetson felt or nice George Strait Resistol straw. Should a real Texan ever wear a black painted straw cowboy hat in public?
Don Florus, Flatonia
A: Although the cowboy hat wasn’t made the official hat of Texas until House Concurrent Resolution No. 35 was passed by the 84th Texas Legislature in 2015, this particular style of headgear has been widely considered such since John B. Stetson first introduced his original lid, the “Boss of the Plains,” way back in the 1860s. Little-known fact: Before Stetsons ruled, it was the bowler style that sat ubiquitously atop the noggins of the American frontier. Can you believe that? It’s true. Noted journalist, bon vivant, and Old West authority Lucius Beebe even once deemed the bowler “the hat that won the West.”
In those early days, hats were worn by cowboys for varying purposes. According to the Handbook of Texas, a tome the Texanist enjoys perusing in his spare time, the Texas Rangers, who were early adopters of Stetson’s hats, found that they could be used for all manner of utilitarian purposes: “to drink from, to fan a campfire, to blindfold a stubborn horse, to slap a steer, to smother grass fires, and to serve as a target in gunfights.” And, to boot, they could also be “brushed for dress wear.” The Texanist finds that hats are also good for keeping the hot Texas sun off your face and neck.
Of course, all of that was a long time ago and the “Boss of the Plains” was constructed of sturdy felt, not straw. You have come with a question about straw hats and modern times. These days, cowboy hats are used less often for slapping cattle, snuffing out fires, and drawing a deadly bead upon than they are for completing a dancehall-suitable outfit—or providing protection from the elements. The Texanist recently read that some seventy percent of today’s wearers do so with the hat’s original purpose in mind and thirty percent wear them as statements of personal style. Country music superstars, such as Tim McGraw, fit into this latter faction.
Another little-known fact: Both Stetson and Resistol, the two best-known hat brands in the land, each a subsidiary of HatCo, Inc., are made at a factory in Garland—at a rate of some three thousand a day. Among the nearly million felt and straw hats produced annually in Garland are a dizzying array of shapes, styles, and colors, including a few black ones. There are fancy hats, less fancy hats, distressed hats, those pre-crushed up hats that the Texanist doesn’t care for, and on and on and on. Indeed, there’s a hat for everyone, probably even Tim McGraw, if he were so inclined, although the Texanist could not locate a Tim McGraw line of hats coming off the line in Garland.
Resistol’s George Strait collection features no black straw. There is a black felt option, but no black straw. And the Resistol “Tuff Anuff” collection, named for famed bull rider Tuff Hedeman, doesn’t have a black straw option either. The Jason Aldean collection, not all that surprisingly, features a very dark (basically black) slate-colored hat called the “Asphalt Cowboy.”
You are right in your assertion that Tim McGraw could probably afford a nice Stetson or Resistol, but the chapeau of his choosing, for whatever reason, is instead made of black straw. However, the Texanist doubts very seriously that the signature shiny black finish found on McGraw’s hats was achieved with a can of everyday high-gloss spray paint. There are, after all, less reputable hat makers than Stetson or Resistol who have all sorts of black straw hats on the market—some even named for Tim McGraw himself, who, as you correctly point out, seems to be, for better or worse, the main culprit in the popularization of the shiny black straw cowboy hat.
Should a real Texan ever wear a black painted straw cowboy hat in public? The Texanist wouldn’t wear such a topper in public or private. Tim McGraw, by the way, is a native Louisianan. And Jason Aldean is a Georgia boy.
One last little-known fact: A ten-gallon hat has an actual capacity of only three quarts.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.
A version of this is published in the March 2018 issue.