What do you envisage when you think of a cowboy hat? For many, a Texan cowboy wearing a Canadian tuxedo lassoing a runaway horse will come to mind. For others, a cowboy hat is most closely associated with the genre of country music and famous figures like Tim McGraw and Dolly Parton or perhaps the Australian television classic McLeod’s Daughters.
Maybe you’ll remember how Madonna effectively launched a one woman campaign in the early 2000s to make the cowboy hat cool, which, while failing to catch on, led to her pulling off some undeniably fabulous looks. Others may recall that a post-breakdown Britney Spears wore almost exclusively cowboy hats on her head between 2007-2008 (to be fair, she does hail from Mississippi and has had a long history of dabbling in the wearing of cowboy hats). Or possibly budget party supply stores with their throw-away zebra print and shiny metallic dress up cowboy hats will be the first thing that springs to mind. Despite all of this, it seems that cowboy hats have never really cracked the mainstream fashion consciousness, excluding certain parts of America, and you have to agree that it would be a particularly rare and somewhat befuddling sight to see a cowboy hat atop the head of a passer-by walking down the street anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere.
Just imagine for a moment that you’re at a bar waiting for a tinder date to arrive and the person materialises wearing a cowboy hat. Would you secretly be wishing you’d swiped left? Surely you’d at least expect some sort of explanation or justification from them as to why they’re wearing this ludicrous piece of headwear in such a public forum?
Well, hold onto your saddles ladies because times they are-a-changing, and several important events have led me to believe that our derision and ambivalence towards cowboy hats as everyday headwear may soon be replaced with feelings of, dare I say it, approval, acceptance and maybe even desire. The first sign was when Lady Gaga released her album Joanne in late 2016 and was pictured on the cover wearing a baby pink cowboy hat. She has worn the hat so consistently that it’s become the look that defines this new vaguely country, vaguely pop, vaguely rock era that Gaga has entered into. The second, and arguably the most significant sign, is that one of London’s most promising young fashion designers, Ashley Williams, featured several Americana touches such as classic denim, cow-print tops, cowgirl fringing and cowboy hats in her Fall 2017 Ready-To-Wear collection. While this in itself is not noteworthy, as plenty of hats go down runways that would never be worn by your average human, it was the styling of the cowboy hats that caught me off-guard. Plain black and beige cowboy hats were placed on top of pale yellow, white and black raised tracksuit hoods that were emblazoned with irreverent logos and paired with track pants and tartan pants. In short, athlesiure met the cowboy hat in a way that I wasn’t prepared for and yet thoroughly enjoyed.
After this Ashley William’s induced style bombshell, I began to wonder if it was the ghastly colours and fabrics that cowboy hats often come in that has kept them firmly outside the sphere of cool hats and so entirely inside the sphere of “I’m going to a dress up party and didn’t know what to wear so bought this $2.00 shiny green cowboy hat.” Maybe pairing a plain black or beige cowboy hat with casual streetwear really was the only way to circumnavigate the tacky/country vibes they’ve long been associated with.
I decided to broach the subject with a few friends, simply asking “What’s your opinion on the female cowboy hat worn as a fashion accessory by someone who is definitely not a cowgirl/rodeo chick/Madonna during the Music era?” The majority of them were very on the fence, one cautiously optimistic friend felt that “It could be an absolute winner if done right”, another was firm in her belief that no one but Madonna could pull it off, and several friends expressed the damning opinion that the cowboy hat is “Almost like the female version of the fedora.” This statement really should have been the nail in the cowboy hat coffin for me, but my interest had been well and truly peaked by this point.
Google searches for celebrities and women wearing cowboy hats became a regular occurrence and I began to compile an album of the most iconic cowboy hat looks female celebrities had endeavoured to pull off. It turns out Cher was an early fan of the cowboy hat and wore it very well, although this fact was useless to mere mortals like me as a young Cher wore absolutely everything well. Queen of impressive headgear Rihanna had a brief but beautiful liaison with the cowboy hat on the cover of Vogue in 2016, Grimes paired one with angel wings in her delightfully wack music video for Flesh Without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream, and eventually I stumbled upon the glorious event that is Carrie Bradshaw wearing a cowboy hat. As with every Carrie outfit, I experienced a brief moment of utter delusion where I convinced myself that I too could pull of this incredibly niche look, providing that less of my abdomen was on show. Whenever this occurs, and it happens far too regularly to be honest, I find it helpful to remind myself that Carrie was a) a fictional character styled by the inimitable Patricia Fields and b) someone who could pull off wearing a studded belt around her bare midriff.
Madonna, Cher, Rihanna, Grimes and Carrie; it seemed to me that these were perhaps the only women on earth who could truly pull of the elusive stylish cowboy hat aesthetic. Upon mulling this over, the link between these ladies became crystal clear. They each have a well-established attitude of not giving two fucks what anyone thinks when it comes to their style, and more significantly, they don’t feel the need to justify or explain why they’re wearing a particular item. I seriously doubt that they ever feel so stressed and nervous about what they’ve placed atop their head that they linger in dark corners at social events hoping that no one will ask them why they’re wearing a leopard print diamond encrusted cowboy hat.
I think for a lot of people, myself included, the cowboy hat is such a specific statement item with such particular connotations – country music, Texan bro, rodeo girl, zany popstar – that it could very easily dominate your outfit and entire sense of self if you’re not careful. However, according to one of my friends, “If the cowboy hat wearer has an “I don’t give a shit I’m fashion” kind of attitude then it will look great. With any off beat fashion accessory it’s all about confidence.” At the end of the day, that’s truly the crux of it – if you believe that you look good and you feel good then you will almost by default look excellent. Even if you don’t technically look excellent and instead look like someone who has been to the gym and decided to pop a cowboy hat on their head post workout, the radiant glow of you feeling fabulous will rub off onto those around you and they will begin to see your potentially hideous get up in a whole new light. And on that very convincing note, you’ll have to excuse me while I go and trawl the web for a replica of this little beauty.