In the show ring, details reign supreme--and your hat is one of the most essential details.
A quality Western hat is kind of like a good horse: You may have to spend more money up front, but it will last for years and serve you well. My best advice? Purchase the highest quality hat you can afford, take excellent care of it--and you'll have made a sound investment.
Here, I'm going to show you two Western hats: one, high quality and contemporary; the other of lower quality that's not-so-fashionable. I'll provide you with the good--and bad--details, and explain why you might want to dish out a few more dollars.
While this hat is fine for beginners or amateurs just starting their show careers, it's a "don't" in the more serious realms of showing.
First, take notice of this hat's shape: Its brim is low and curves upward; the sides are "rolled" in toward the crown; there's no shape or angle in the front; and the crown is too high.
This hat's round shape is outdated for the contemporary show ring, as is the braided hatband. It looks as if it was pulled right from the store's shelf with no shaping to the rider's face. Plus, it's dusty and in need of cleaning. A further detriment, this hat appears to be made of wool, or a combination of wool and an inexpensive fur. Wool doesn't hold its shapeover time, and usually can't be reshaped with steam, because it will shrink.
Above all, this hat's loose, and doesn't fit the rider's head or flatter her facial features. While this hat would be fun to wear to a concert or rodeo, I wouldn't recommend it for high-end showing.
This hat will impress me. It exemplifies today's trend toward "tighter" brimmed hats, for a cleaner appearance. It's been fitted and shaped for this rider's head and face, and it flows well with her features and hair for an overall polished look.
This hat's made of a high-grade fur; it's been shaped flat in front, with the sides angled straight out (not curved); and the crown is shorter and tighter than the one in the first photo. These seemingly small details nicely frame her face, highlighting her eyes and cheekbones.
As opposed to the first hat's outdated braided hatband, this hat embodies the more fashionable trend to have a fabric band of the same felted material as the hat, with a small buckle and tip set (although you can't see these in this photo).
An added note: Smiling (under your hat) is a major plus in my book.
Note to the fashionistas: Contemporary hat style doesn't have to be synonymous with boring. It's OK to have little flash in Western pleasure, Western riding, or trail classes. (We've recently seen sparkle and bling on hatbands and brims.) But, in a class such as showmanship, where your appearance is especially scrutinized, tidy, conservative, and sleek rule the day.
This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Horse and Rider magazine.