I should not do what with my cowboy hat? Learn about cowboy hat etiquette here!

Cowboy hat culture continues to be on full display at the Black Hills Stock Show as the week comes to an end.

RAPID CITY, S.D.– Whether for keeping the elements off of your head while hard at work or while sitting in the grandstands at your next rodeo, a cowboy hat completes either look. And is considered by many people an extension of the wearer from the look and style to the smallest detail.

And for as long as the cowboy hat has been around, so have many customs and traditions been passed down from generation to generation associated with the western accessory. Attendees at the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo shared some of their knowledge of cowboy hat etiquette for anyone thinking about or having just purchased a hat of their own.


As previously mentioned, a cowboy hat is an extension of the person it belongs to and its style has often been established over time by the wearer. And as no two cowboy hats are alike, neither are hat designs in different areas of the country. “There are regional designs to the hat,” Annie Hatch of the South Dakota Arts Council explained. “That distinctive style comes down to things such as how you train a horse, how you cowboy. How your husbandry of horses is like and the care of the cattle. So it is not just a hat. It also comes down to the techniques of ranching.” Hatch’s own hat was custom-made for her, she says. “I got to pick the rim and the ribbon and the color, and there’s even a little– I have a covered up, but a little bow in the back. And so all those little details make it special to me.”

According to the Co-Owner of stock show vendor The Cow Lot, Glenn Orms says that styles in South Dakota have changed over time and reports seeing major changes in the brim and shape of the hat. “Every generation has their own style, their own look. Right now this look is a little bit wider in front,” he explained. “A little bit laid down on the side. and a little bit taller crowns.”

Hayes, Tate, and Trey of Gordon, Nebraska were in town with their family on Thursday at the stock show and were each wearing their hats as they checked out the vendors. Tate and Trey each had a turkey feather on their hats. “My grandpa John shot a turkey last year and I kept it on my hat since then,” Tate explained. “I used to, but now I do not,” Hayes explained, preferring her hat just the way it is.

Customs and traditions

With a great accessory like a cowboy hat comes great responsibility. Stock show residents shared their advice on what to do and what not to do while wearing a cowboy hat that they have been told and adhered to since getting their first one.

“Leave another man’s hat alone like you would leave his belongings alone,” Herdsman Matt Bruner explained. “His horses his stock– his vehicle. It is not yours, so do not mess with it.” Bruner explains that not only is it that person’s personal property, but that it is also a sign of respect to the wearer.

“You never lay your cowboy hat on the bed,” Orms explained. “I do not know where it came from, but it is supposed to be bad luck.” 

“When you are at school, you can not wear it. It is against the law,” Tate explained. “And in church, you can not wear it. You have to take it off and put it on the bench.”

Removing hats in church buildings was a common theme among people at the stock show, including Star of the West Hat Company Owner Brad Montague. “Taking your hat off when you got out to church, funerals, weddings. All that has always just been part of what you were taught growing up. The rest of it you pick up as you go.” Montague considers himself not too much of a superstitious person, but is a firm believer in the customs out of respect for the people he meets and places he goes.

And when you take it off, make sure that you put it on crown-side up,” Sales Manager for Rodeo Rigs and Trailer Sales Jimmy Temple said. The technical reason for this one is for keeping the shape and look of the hat intact, but it also has a superstitious reason among wearers as wearers risk pouring the luck from their hat when placing it flat and not on the crown. Placing it on the dashboard of your car can also be a bad spot for a hat, as exposure to the elements can be another reason for an altered shape.

Most importantly, as many people said, cowboy hats tell the world what kind of person you are, and should be worn with a sense of great pride.

Categories: Local News, Nebraska News, South Dakota News, Stock Show and Rodeo