Q: Is there a proper ratio between a person’s physical build and the width of their cowboy hat’s brim? Everyone who has seen Toy Story wants to avoid the “Woody” look (tall person/narrow brim), and nobody wants the “umbrella” look (short person/wide brim). Is there a formula that determines the right hat style for a particular person?
Randy Fowler, Houston
A: The Texanist, as he’s noted many times over the years, is a hat man, which has come in handy on those occasions when he’s been obliged to answer questions on the subject. Back some fourteen years ago, for example, a reader wanted to know during which seasons one should and shouldn’t wear a straw hat. (It’s complicated.) And in 2018, there was a query about whether a self-respecting Texan would be caught dead in a shiny black straw cowboy hat, à la country singer Tim McGraw. (Firm no! And, really, neither should Tim McGraw.) Then, quite recently, the Texanist was summoned to ponder whether the resurgent popularity of Stetson’s classic Open Road model had ruined the topper for longtime wearers of the familiar short-brimmed hat. (“For the sake of all that is Texan, the Texanist sure hopes not,” he said at the time.)
Given that the Texanist tops himself with a wide array of hats, he knows of what he speaks. Standouts among the items in his collection include an Open Road, which he happily sports right alongside the newly behatted hipsters; a big, sturdy straw job made of Mexican palm leaf that gives off an exceedingly generous amount of shade; and a fine silverbelly Gus, originally shaped for the Texanist by the late Manny Gammage of Buda’s famed Texas Hatters hat shop. Gammage was the man responsible for bringing this hat into existence, for Robert Duvall’s memorable portrayal of Lonesome Dove’s Captain Gus McCrae. The Texanist owns a few others, too, such as an authentic Panama that was gifted to him many years ago by a traveling friend, a cheap Resistol knockoff purchased at an Alpine gas station, and several that wore out and have been lost to time. Or were just misplaced.
Now, the Texanist doesn’t bring all of this up as a boast—though he does, if he may say so himself, possess quite a sweet rack of hats. The reason he brings it up is to demonstrate that his impressive assortment of chapeaus features brims of widely varying widths. And though the Texanist’s physical build (medium-ish, though somewhat portly-ish in the midsection) is the exact same beneath each and every one of them, in nary a case does he resemble Sheriff Woody Pride—or an umbrella.
Nobody, of course, wants to look like an umbrella, but the Texanist will admit that he is a little flummoxed by your aversion to Sheriff Woody’s head-to-foot profile. Sure, Woody is a cartoon character, but he doesn’t have a particularly cartoonish look. In fact, the Texanist quite likes the cut of his jib, and the width of his brim, and the height of his crown. That cowhide vest is, okay, a bit over the top, but that’s pretty much the extent of the Texanist’s critique of Sheriff Woody’s bearing. He’s for sure no Yosemite Sam. Now, there’s a character with a seriously ill-fitting bucket, as most everyone except, apparently, Yosemite Sam would agree.
Because such judgments involve a degree of subjectivity, there really aren’t any surefire formulae for dictating who can or cannot wear any particular style of hat. Which isn’t to say that any old person can just pick up any old hat and wear it well. That isn’t how it works. There’s more to it.
To ascertain a fuller understanding of how, exactly, it does work, the Texanist reached out to master hatter David Torres, a former longtime apprentice to Manny Gammage and the husband of Manny’s daughter, Joella, with whom Torres is helping to carry on the family business, which is now located in Lockhart. Torres confirmed for the Texanist that there is no algorithm that precisely matches a hat to its wearer. “There’s a lot that goes into it,” Torres said. “The shape of the face is important, the jawline, the shape of the nose and eyes, the eye color, the complexion, even the hair color is something I take into consideration,” he explained. “There’s no law saying a tall person (or a short person) has to wear a certain hat, though. That said, people with long faces might not want a hat with a tall crown. And people with fuller or rounder faces should probably stick with medium crowns.”
But, again, even those aren’t hard-and-fast rules. A hat, after all, is not just a hat. A hat is the sum of a number of different elements. There’s the aforementioned brim, of course, but there’s also the crown and the crease, which is the indention made along the top of the crown; the pinch dents, which are the indentions shaped into the sides of the crown; the flange, which is the basic shape and curve of the brim from front to back and side to side; and the material from which the hat is formed. Not to mention the color of that material, and maybe the edge binding, the hatband, and a spiffy feather of some sort stuck into the hatband if that’s your thing. The possible combinations of all of these features are near infinite. Likewise, the donners of hats come in a near infinite assortment too.
So you see, when all things are considered, any one person, be they tall and slender, short and round, or even, say, medium-ish with a portly-ish midsection, might look great in any given style of hat. Or they might not. In the absence of strict sartorial constraints, the only useful system to consider in seeking a harmonious pairing with headwear is one consisting of two simple yet fundamental questions that one must ask of oneself while gazing into the mirror: “Do I like this hat on me?” And “Does this hat make me look like a fool?” If the respective answers to those questions are yes and no, then you’re probably in good shape. Though there is, of course, the occasional fellow or lady who, like Yosemite Sam (or Tim McGraw), just doesn’t know what’s good for them. Torres told the Texanist that he has, on occasion, had to politely but firmly steer a customer with strong but misguided personal preferences away from a disastrous choice. In fact, he quite recently had to assert himself in just such a manner with a well-known star of the small screen whose identity Torres refused to divulge.
Now with a tip of one of his own well-fitting (if he does say so himself) hats, the Texanist thanks you kindly for the great question, Mr. Fowler, and bids you good luck.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.