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Cowboy Hat, Pass By

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While things will surely get serious in this new legislative session–what with guns and Medicaid and such–politicians now have a real rah-rah resolution on the docket that every prideful Texan can get behind.

This week, state representative Marsha Farney submitted her resolution to make the cowboy hat the official hat of Texas. From the resolution:

The cowboy hat symbolizes both the state’s iconic western culture and the uniqueness of its residents, and it is indeed appropriate that this stylish and dignified apparel receive special legislative recognition.

… Of all the Lone Star State’s unique items of headwear that Texans have used to adorn their heads perhaps none says ‘Texan’ more fashionably than the Cowboy Hat.”

The mind boggles at what other “unique items of headwear” she’s thinking of (football helmets? bulls’ heads? empty beer cases?). To be fair, it’s certainly not the silliest and most pointless bill proposal of this infant legislative session (lookin at you, Dan Flynn). In fact, it might be the only bill this session that will be truly bipartisan. As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes:

Fort Worth attorney Jim Lane, who rarely is seen around town without his trademark cowboy hat, said he believes this proposal is a “great, great bill.”

“It goes to show that even a Republican can dream up something good once in a while,” said the staunch Democrat and former city councilman.

The resolution is so feel-good and unifying, imagine what would happen in the next election cycle to the poor legislator who actually voted against the measure. Ominous music would play in their opponent’s radio ad as a low, powerful voice intoned “Bob X voted against the cowboy hat because he hates Texas. This November, tell X you want him to hang up his hat.”

In the unlikely scenario that some maverick fights against the resolution, there are some talking points to trot out. The accessory is not uniquely Texan, as Representative Farney’s resolution (an interesting read, as far as these things go) outlines while describing the hat’s history. Developed by Mongolian horsemen in the thirteenth century, the design was later adopted by the Spanish who took it to Mexico. John B. Stetson, the legendary hat man, was born in New Jersey and worked out of Philadelphia. (And yes, the Stetson company finally settled in Garland, Texas, thirty years ago, but by that measure, any company that’s relocated to the state could be the official insert-industry-here of Texas.)

Another argument could be made that many Texans—people who live in a state where cities are growing, rural populations are shrinking, and people are spending more time indoors (we’re getting so fat!)—probably don’t own this piece of western wear. May have never even worn one. As an experiment, I asked my friend Chris Moody, a senior correspondent for CNN Politics, to tweet out “What state comes to mind when you think of a cowboy hat?” Moody has 24,800 followers and his main twitter picture is of Karl Rove in a cowboy hat, so it seemed like a relatively wide-reaching poll. The Twitter-verse disappointed. Twenty people responded, six of which made snarky jokes. Among the remaining sixteen, the most votes were indeed for “Texas” (five) but the runner-up was Wyoming (three), which one commenter even noted has a “license plate with the cowboy and hat.” Someone else said “Oklahoma.”

If a contrarian really wanted to rail against the hat as state symbol, one could go so far as to say the hat’s utility has shifted significantly. Sure, it’s still used by the Texas Rangers, and cowboys wear them for their original intended purpose, but I’d venture a guess that the majority of people who do choose to wear the hat aren’t donning it for the reasons described by the Handbook of Texas notes, which notes “that it could be used 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.”

Of course, honoring the style of the ranchers who work the land is a lovely gesture. But when Farney points that the hat is worn by the likes of “presidents, governors, singers and musicians, movie stars, athletes,” that almost makes it seem like an accessory that’s been appropriated by the rich and famous.

Resolutions like this typically serve as party pleasers (though our own Paul Burka took umbrage to the Sixty-fifth Legislature declaring chili over brisket as the state dish), but maybe the Lege should provide incentives to hat makers to create the best possible cranium cover, and let the free hat-market decide. What’s more Texan than that?

Follow Jeff Winkler on Twitter

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