When you begin shopping for a cowboy hat, you’ll quickly realize that cowboy hats come in many different styles. The hat is unique because there is so much real estate to personalize. The brims are wide, and the crowns are tall – and this is what makes cowboy hats so distinctive and personal. Back in the western expansion days, cowboys would personalize their hats, denting it here, pushing the brim there. Ranch hands were known to create a “family crease” so if they met another ranch hand on the plains, they could recognize which ranch they were from. Those dents and folds you see in the crown of a cowboy hat are collectively known as the crease of the hat. The flange identifies the profile of the brim.
To begin with, cowboy hats are made with varying brim widths and crown heights. If we use Stetson as a base line, their cowboy hats have a brim that tops out at 5”, though most of their hats land in the 4 to 4-½” territory. Their popular Open Road is the smallest brim in their western lineup at 2-¾” (favored by Truman, Eisenhower and LBJ). That’s what gave the Open Road such a “dressy” look. But the classic cowboy hat brim will generally land between 3-½ to 4-½”. The crown of a cowboy hat will usually be between 4-5” but may even be offered as tall as 6” or more, but these are for very specific styles.
Now you can purchase an open crown - meaning it is not shaped at all - and have your hatter shape it for you, or you can wear it open. If you look at historic images from 1800’s Western America, you’ll see a lot of open crowns. But most hats sold today are machine-blocked at the factory into a specific profile. Blocking is shaping the hat with a mold after the fur felt is treated with heat and steam. One half of the mold meets the hat from the bottom and one half meets it down from the top. When the hat is treated with steam it becomes very pliable and the hat is “blocked” into shape. After the hat cools, it will keep and maintain the shape.
There are quite a few hat makers today and they all name their blockings differently. Some use traditional names, some use numbers and some let their marketing guy come up with flashy names for their creases. Regardless, there are some basic creases that we can speak about here so you can get a general idea of the different styles you’ll see when you start looking for a cowboy hat.
This is the most popular hat crease today and not by a little. There are many variations of this basic crease by
minimizing the side dents or dropping them farther down the hat and the like. It came out of the cattle ranchers, who were known to have money and dressed well. The center crease stops short of clearing the top of the crown. The side dents are about 80% shorter than the center dent and sweeps downward slightly.
This crease came out of the rugged mountains of Montana and drops the cattleman crease down a 20-25 degree slope from back to front. A taller crown is used for this one, usually a 5”. The slope of the crown will drop about 1” from back to front and the slope represents the mountains of Montana. Some Montana creases allow a peak at the center of the crown with 4 dents sloping down.
A modification of the cattleman crease, the cutter crease side dents are narrower than in the cattleman crease, giving a bit more headroom in the hat.
Ridge Top Crease
The ridge top crease, another variation of the cattleman crease, is a taller crease with a more pronounced center and deeper side dents, creating a more dramatic peak in the crease.
Dakota and Brick Crease
The Dakota, or Brick crease, favored by bull riders, has a square center crease and side dents.
Pinch Front Crease
A popular crease with men and women, the pinch front was born by cowboys grabbing their crown from the font. A triangular crease on top and side dents at the front point of the triangle.
Telescope or Gambler Crease
The gambler crease was born from the Mexican and Southeast US vaqueros. The crease shortens the height of the crown to assist in preventing heat buildup in the hot temperatures of the desert plains. This has become a favorite of the movie outlaws and high-rolling gamblers - a favorite, to be sure.
No crease at all, open crowns are a natural domed crown and are suitable to where as is or to shape into whichever crease you choose to personalize your hat with.
There are dozens of variations out there and you’ll find some hatters really having fun with creative creases to meet the personalities of their customers. The variety of crown creases and flange shapes can truly make your cowboy hat uniquely yours.The crease is one of the reasons your first cowboy hat might very well lead to a bit of an addiction - thankfully, a relatively safe one. Like picking out which boots match your personality and mood of the day, your cowboy hat can finish off your personal expression of the day's mood.