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Western Horse Show Fashion Clinic 4: Hat Shopping

Just any old cowboy hat won't do for a horse show. You should know how and where to shop for this important piece of your winning wardrobe and what color and style suit you best.

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Last time, I introduced my Western Fashion Clinic Head-to-Toe series beginning at the top--with your quality Western hat. Then I explained some of the differences between felt and straw hats. Now, let's look more in-depth at things you probably should know before investing in a hat for the Western show ring.

Your show hat is an important investment. Hats can vary in price from around $40 for a decent straw to $1,000 for a 100X Stetson. When shopping for a hat, consider:

  1. Color: Black hats always look nice with black chaps, but can cast a harsh unflattering shadow over the rider's face. (see "Choose Color Wisely" below.) Consider a pale neutral felt hat to add more light and interest around your face. Neutral hats come in cool, grayish shades like platinum or crystal that look best worn with bright jewel colors like purple or red, or warm golden tones like buckskin or sand that look best with earthy shades--rust, beiges, and so on. Brightly colored hats to match chaps aren't popular in the show ring these days, though you may see them on the pages of fashion magazines.
  2. Style: A basic cattleman's crown with a 4-inch brim is pretty standard these days, but women with smaller faces and children should certainly consider having their brim trimmed by at least 1/4 inch. Full 4-inch brims are designed for men, and often make smaller people look like mushrooms. A little judicious trimming and shaping can make a world of difference in a hat.
  3. Care: Even the finest hats look horrible if you don't take care of them. Learn how to put your hat on, never touching the delicate brim, and also how to clean it with a curved handle soft hat brush. Invest in a good case, and never leave your hat in a hot car or horse trailer in a plastic bag--it will warp in the heat and look like a tortilla chip.
  4. Sourcing: It's imperative to buy your Western hats from an experienced retailer. Don't trade at a store that isn't serious enough about hats to offer shaping, trimming and expert consultation. Spending a few more dollars to have your hat professionally shaped and fitted is the way to go, whether you have a great Western store in your area, shop at the trade show of a major event, or discuss your exact needs over the phone with the resident hat expert from a store far away.
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Remember, you'll never get a second chance to make a first impression, so strive to create a winning impression the moment you step into the ring!

Choose Color Wisely
Your Western hat tops your show presentation and creates a frame for your face. A trendy look--and a good one--is to wear a pale hat instead of black to add light and interest to your face, to draw the judge's eye upward, and to add the illusion of length to your silhouette. Light and dark hats can change the mood and impression a rider creates in similar outdoor light.

  1. Black visually compresses the rider and casts a darker shadow over the top half of her face--an effect that's much more noticeable indoors or in marginal light.
  2. A neutral sand hat makes the rider's neck look longer and adds soft light around her face.

Both hats are appropriate, and both can blend nicely with a rider's outfit, but which creates a more pleasing silhouette? Though there's no right answer to that question, keep in mind:

  • Tall riders can shorten their look with a dark hat.
  • Short riders can lengthen their look with a pale hat.
  • Hat shape, color and size affect the final look.
  • Overhead lighting exaggerates hat shadows on your face.
  • Certain outfits beg for a particular hat--compare.
  • Before your next show, have a dress rehearsal to try both light and dark hats with your outfits to choose the look that's best.

Next part > Vests > Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Writing or riding, Suzanne Vlietstra enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including two Paints, a Quarter Horse and an antique Arabian.

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