A lost art

I love doing things that are out of style today. In my mind, it’s preserving the past. I’ve written before about my sourdough starter, sauerkraut crock, and even cooking under a hot rock.

I grew up in Northern Nevada, and many of my friends and relatives were, and rarely still are, cowboys. I bought myself a souvenir in Jackson. I have a dozen or more hats to my name, and really didn’t need another one. Then I found a 5x beaver hat for about half what it’s worth.

The store was the Beaver Creek Hat Company. They have their own brand, and I wanted one of those. They didn’t have any that suited me, but there was a Resistol that was perfect.

It was unshaped, and came with a five inch brim. It looked kind of like this, only mine is dark beaver brown.


The first thing I had them do was cut it down to a three inch brim. Big is cool, and all that, but I don’t have the shoulders to pull off that much hat.

A hundred years ago, this was how all hats were sold. Any shape that went into them was up to the owner. Today you can buy them pre-shaped, but where’s the fun in that?

The first shapes likely came from repeatedly grabbing the crown to put your hat on. How you went about it would eventually produce a pinch in front, on the sides, or even in front and back. Pulling the brim down to anchor it in place added a bit of character to the brim. Or there was the alternate method of falling off a horse. That added a few interesting shapes too.

Cowboys are all about style, and eventually wanted to start directing the shape of their hats. These things are like modeling clay of you get them wet. The first custom jobs were usually around a campfire after a quick dunk in the stream. Water troughs served just as well.

Tom Mix, the movie cowboy supposedly shaped his own hats while in the shower. I’ve done this, but prefer the bathtub. We’re going to use today’s preferred method, since the world isn’t ready for my bathtub pictures.

This is my new toy, with the brim already cut down. The first thing I learned is that photography is going to be horrible with a beaver brown hat.

Right now, it’s a perfect style known as a reservation hat. Many of them get worn just like this, but I want a bit more flare.

Note also the tea kettle and the baseball. These are my tools today. That and the kitchen sink.

I’ve worn a lot of Montana Peak style hats, and really like them. These are the crown shapes worn by Mounties, drill sergeants, and highway patrolmen. I may still wind up with that style, but not today.

Today, I’m going for a two dot style. This is the Montana Peak only in the front, with the back remaining unshaped.

The nice thing about a beaver hat is I can reshape it anytime I want. I even have a small steam iron if I want to get right down to it.

Here’s the part where photography let me down. I applied a little sink water to the crown, and went to work with the baseball. This part takes a bit of conviction, but everything can be changed if it isn’t wonderful. I used my baseball to create two dents in the front of the hat. I left about two inches between them for now. I have one with a very narrow pinch point, but my round face prefers a bit of distance between the dents.

I’ll have to step into the sunlight and try another picture. The front dents are in place, and the brim needs a bit of work.

This is where the steam is helpful. Heat also helps soften the felt and makes it more malleable. The brim’s purpose is to keep the sun out of your eyes, and the rain off your neck.

I decided to turn the brim down over my eyes, slightly. I still wanted a touch of cowboy style, and so I turned the sides up ever so slightly.

My photography skills are hampering my blog post. This color isn’t showing up as well as a nice light grey or tan would.

On the drive home today, we saw quite a bit of small stuff. There were rock chucks everywhere. (Western for marmots.) We even saw a bald eagle in a meadow trying to fend off the ravens who wanted to steal his supper. I spotted two great horned owls right after we crossed into Idaho.

There was a weasel at the hotel in the dawn hours, and I tried to take his picture. He was too “weasely.”

We must have seen a dozen road kill barn owls along the way. There was even a dead great horned owl. Now those are the kind of feathers to adorn a hat. Still, with six more hours to drive, I never took the time to score an owl feather.

Still too dark to get much of a photo. I can tell the brim needs a bit more of a “smile” from side to side. I may work on it after it dries out.

I have a lot of crown available too. There is plenty of room to stove in the back and give it a nice shape. Right now, I have to feel it for a few days. With my big beard, a tall crown works just fine for me.

I bought the hat for me. It would have made a better blog post if I’d have bought a grey one.

I like the beaver brown, and it would look great with a narrow band of hammered copper. I don’t have one lying around, and may have to live without it. Although, my brother could probably make one. Hmmmm?

Have any of you ever shaped a cowboy hat? Am I the last person in America that still wears them?


Filed under Uncategorized

32 responses to “A lost art

  1. I have watched hats get shaped at fairs and stock shows. You did a great job on that!


  2. The only way to keep an art alive is to revive it yourself. It looks great, by the way.


  3. I never knew about this hat shaping thing! I assumed they had always been bought ready shaped, really interesting. I love hearing about traditional crafts and how they used to do things my other half Neil volunteers at an old windmill that’s a museum five minutes away from us, and this coming weekend they’re having a fair with demonstrations of old crafts, really looking forward to it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I.Love.This.Post! Thank you so much for all the information! In spite of my research for hats off, I had no idea you could shape your own hat. Perhaps it’s a US thing? I’m gradually starting to do some posts on my writing blog (www.dsnelson.co.uk) and I’d love to use this post as a guest post? Would you be happy with that?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow this is very cool. Thank you for sharing the shaping of your new hat with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a lovely hat, Craig! I’m sure you rock it nicely. I absolutely love hats of all kinds, though I have no cowboy hat of my own. They don’t really get worn much over here, and somehow pairing one with sparkly shoes just feels… wrong. πŸ™‚ But I had a lovely white one in the past when I did a pretty fair Patsy Cline imitation. I’ve got the blue fringed dress and ankle cowboy boots and all… You’ve done well with this! Looks great. Me? I’m kind of a beret gal, these days. As much for practicality as out of sheer laziness since they pair so well with my ponytails. And sparkly shoes. And scarves. πŸ˜€ MH

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I doubt you are the last!! πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ali Isaac

    Never had a cowboy hat, but did shape my beret a bit when I was in the RAF… it was made of wool, I think. Used a bit of steam, pulling and pressing to get the right shape. There was a lot of unofficial competition, some people really went to town on them… usually guys, us girls didnt care too much for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s pretty interesting without the RAF confession. I never realized you were in the military. That makes it even more interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ali Isaac

        Lol! I guess I’m one of those people who was always searching for something and looking for adventure. Military wasnt it for me, as it turns out! Glad I did it though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a great outlook. Keep searching and you’ll stay young.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ali Isaac

        That’s a nice thought! I’m still searching, but found happiness along the way. I think Im lucky… some people search all their lives but never find happiness. And no, not touched a drop of alcohol today… YET! Here’s skmething which might interest you… had my dinner in a haunted castle on saturday night!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh Man! I want to have dinner in a haunted castle. We can probably do haunted in the USA, it’s the castle that’s hard to come by. There ought to be a blog post in there somehow.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ali Isaac

        I think there is… it was built by Myles ‘the Slasher’ O’Reilly in C16th. Gotta be some juicy stuff about him! Didnt see any ghosts though.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve never shaped a cowboy hat. I didn’t even realize it was possible, so thank you for the education. I am, however, a fan of hats and have a small collection. I think my love of hats goes back to my grandfather who was a fedora man. My favorite hat is a fedora but I’ve got several other styles, too. I think you added an awesome choice to your own collection!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. That’s so cool that you know how to dot hat stuff! As far as your photography, that shot is difficult even for the pros. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s