In 1973 a 10X-rated fur felt Resistol cowboy hat would’ve run you about $125 (the equivalent of $820 in today’s dollars), and a basic Maxi-felt model from American Hat Company could be had for a mere $40. Back then, such toppers were mainly must-have accessories for ranch workers, bull riders, and honky-tonkers. These days, a premium hat can cost as much as $5,500, and it might well be perched atop the head of a fashion-forward rapper, not an actual cowboy.
When Dallas debuted in 1978, the prime-time soap opera captured the sartorial imaginations of millions of viewers who wouldn’t know a crown from a crease. Two years later, Urban Cowboy sent the trend into overdrive. According to Resistol rep Matthew Range, “Every store on God’s green earth wanted to sell cowboy hats.” When the fad fizzled a few years later, “it put some hat makers out of business or in a bad spot. It took years to recover.” In the decades that followed, sales have been bumped by the popularity of hat wearers George Strait in the eighties and Garth Brooks in the nineties and of the TV drama Yellowstone today.
While all of those phenomena have perpetuated the image of the rugged Western (white) man, in recent years a more diverse posse of cowboy hat devotees has emerged. The “yeehaw agenda” hit social media in 2019, celebrating the overlooked contributions of Black cowboys. Beyoncé and Solange Knowles, Lizzo, and Megan Thee Stallion, Texans all, have been at the forefront of that movement, wearing hats dripping with rhinestones and covered in animal prints.
Ever since, the cowboy hat has become as much a fashion statement as an article of work wear. Trendy takes have added variety to the traditional brown, black, and white models made of felt, straw, or fur blends. In the late seventies, Resistol briefly gave corduroy hats a whirl, and Charlie 1 Horse began offering cowgirls vibrant colors and feminine fits. Fast-forward to the 2010s and you’ll find Neon Cowboys—a company founded by a Black Asian woman from California with Texas roots—getting tech-y with light-up hats. Last year Vogue.com, of all places, ran a “best cowboy hat” roundup that celebrated “the latest accessory trend to grace the runways.” It’s not just the high end of the market that’s looking westward either. Head over to your local Target to grab some moisturizer and paper towels, and you’ll likely stumble across a juniors department mannequin topped with a gold-butterfly-emblazoned cowboy hat from in-house brand Wild Fable.
Forget about urban cowboys—the iconic cowboy hat has now sprawled out into suburban, music festival, and red-carpet territories.
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Felt, Straw, Corduroy, or Fur?” Subscribe today.