The Hat Says It All

It's horse show weekend and BenitoLink looks into the subtleties of the cowboy hat
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The San Benito County Horse Show and Rodeo is here but do you have your hat? BenitoLink decided to talk to  local specialists — Rancher's Feed in Hollister — when it comes to the cowboy hat. So, how does one decide what hat to buy and what look they want?

“It depends on whether it is for fashion or for function,” said Frank O’Connell, manager of Rancher’s Feed. He said it isn’t actually that simple, but there is a definite dividing line between the fashion world and the working cowboy’s hat.

“I can tell right away where they’re from geographically. I can tell a person from Texas or the desert southwest by the way they wear their hat and their boots,” O’Connell said, wearing his store ball cap. So what is the San Benito County look when it comes to the cowboy hat — or do we have one? 

“What I am asked for most here is the traditional shaped hat: flatter brim and a little bit tipped up on the sides, square the front off the front and tipped just a little down right in the front so it kind of covers their eyes,” he said. O’Connell still shapes hats for his customers and tunes up them up as a service.

There are also a few “Californio” vaquero hats with flat tops that you might see at the store and at the rodeo.

“There’s the Buckaroo style seen in the Great Basin area, which would be Nevada, Eastern Oregon, Idaho and the small pocket of Carmel,” O’Connell said.

The most popular color in the county for felt hats is black. The many shades of brown are second, ranging from a medium brown to a buckskin. The third favorite is Silver Belly, a dusty, light grey color.

O’Connell said that straws and palms are brought out in the summer and felts are more typically worn in the winter. Under the blazing sun, the straw hats with lots of holes woven into them are coolest. Palm hats, which have a little heavier weight, have also become popular.

Prices have gone up. The thicker weave Guatemalan is strong enough to dunk in water and re-shape, unlike the finer weave Mexican palm.

Finally, there is one of the most popular hats in the store that O’Connell can depend on to make the customer happy — the little black hat with the pink rim. “Little girls love it and the grandma’s love it,” O’Connell said. 

The 84th Annual San Benito County Saddle Horse Show and Rodeo gets underway Friday, June 23. Tickets are available at the door: $10 for adults and $7 for kids. Parking is free. For more information, click here.





Leslie David

Leslie David is a Bay Area independent reporter/producer and is a BenitoLink founding board member. She has produced for radio, television, newspaper and magazines in both California and Wyoming. She was with KRON-TV News in San Francisco as camera-woman, editor and field producer, where she won the Commonwealth Club's Thomas Storke Award with Linda Yee for their series on the Aids Epidemic. She started as a small market news reporter shooting her own 16mm film at KEYT-TV Santa Barbara. Leslie lives on a ranch with her family in San Benito County.