Cowboy hat remains constant icon

By Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico

There are few items that signify the history of the Southwest or that carry the same iconic weight as the cowboy hat.

Today’s cowboy hat has remained basically unchanged for more than a century.

Some wear them for protection, some wear them for style, and others in tribute.

C.L. Myers of Muleshoe said that few have a real need to wear a cowboy hat these days.

“It’s just something you wear,” Myers said. “Some wear it to cover up their balding head, I wear it to cover my gray hair.”

Myers also said that for those that wear a cowboy hat, it’s one of the basics.

“Some put on their underwear, some put on their cowboy hat,” Myers said. “Other people put on both.”

Buzz Goodson, owner Bar G Western Wear in Portales, said cowboy hats were always meant to serve a basic purpose.

“They are used to shade you in the summer and warm you in the winter,” he said.

He also said that different hats signify a different personality.

“Like Indiana Jones has his own hat and George Strait has his,” he said. “My hat is kind of like a George Strait hat but I’ve worn mine for years.

For Mark Raley, a certain cowboy hat fulfilled a dream.

When Raley watched Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant, he was in awe of his hat.

In the mid- to late 1970s, Van Zant took to wearing a certain style of cowboy hat.

“I always remember that hat,” Raley said. “It was a cool looking hat.”

Thirty years later, on his way from his home in Haskall, Okla., to a construction job in Carlsbad, Raley found the hat at Joe’s Boot Shop in Clovis.

“I enjoy the style of the cowboy hat,” said Raley, as he tried on several styles and checked them in a nearby mirror. “But I wanted this hat just to have it.”

Helping Raley’s dream hat become a reality was Luis Saena, who refers to himself only as “the hat man.”

Saena began selling and cleaning cowboy hats at the age of 7. At 19, Saena is more involved with his customer’s choices and he said they range from laid back to serious.

“Some take it seriously. It’s gotta be perfect,” Saena said.

Saena said the store sells 81 styles of cowboy hats, with different brands, crown and brim shapes and sizes. He said that people find what looks best on them, but some hat styles are decided based on their profession.

“The guys who work over at the feed lots, they’ve got their crease,” said Saena, referring to the shape of a hats brim. “Bull riders like the Canadian so much that it’s often called the bull rider.”

Saena said that hats show a lot about the people that wear them.

“Some people say the way you treat your hat is the way you treat your wife,” Saena said. “But the crease a person chooses varies depending on what they do and where they’re from.”