Eye of the Beholder: When he speaks, men listen.

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When I say “cow,” you say “boy” – when I say “hat,” you say “Stetson.” In many a man’s mind, there is no other. It’s not to say working men never put anything on their heads before the Stetson – brimmed hats date back to the Mongols – but the high crown and wide brim of the first official model in 1865 did more for the image of the American West than any other cultural icon.

The Boss of the Plains hat, as with many successful inventions, was born out of necessity. Mr. John B. Stetson came down with consumption and he was on his way west for some fresh air and a good climate to assuage his chronic cough. But he done run into bad luck in Colorado, trapped while panning for gold, and he was in dire need of protection from inclement weather. He made a hat, which a man bought right off his head for $5 in gold.

Stetson had a choice: the West had prospects for fortune, but the East was a sure gold mine – that’s where he would manufacture his new brand of cowboy hats. So he went back to Philadelphia and within a year, his factory had 4,000 employees.

The “ten-gallon” hat, a nickname for the 6-inch crown and 7-inch brim of the Stetson, not only came to symbolize the West as a whole but also told the story of each man. Made of felt, the hat was easily shaped with hot steam. Molded to the head then and allowed to dry, the hat took the shape of its wearer, and the crease in the crown was the mark of a man’s home. Each ranch had their own style, so much so that eventually Stetson imitated the homemade branding and came up with different models by region.

As for the ten gallon, they’d like you to believe that it’s because the hat doubled as a water bucket, a handy tool for the cowboy on the go. The tight weave and the lining of Stetson hats were indeed waterproof, but if filled up with water, the capacity in gallons was about nine short of ten.

Others say it’s Spanish gone gringo: tan galán means really handsome. Whether that’s the origin of the name or not, there’s no doubt about it: “Good grooming begins with a Stetson.”

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