It is lovely to welcome back New Zealand reader Sandra to the blog today for another interesting guest post. Welcome Sandra!
The Stetson hat (and many other styles) has been manufactured since 1865 by the company founded by John Batterson Stetson (1830-1906). Wikipedia relates that his father, Stephen, was a hatter and father and son worked together in New Jersey until John was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Deciding he wanted to see the American West before he died, off he went and once there “turned a critical eye to the flea-infested coonskin caps favoured by many of the gold seekers, and wondered whether fur-felt would work for a lightweight, all-weather hat suitable for the West”. He moved to Philadelphia, designed and began to manufacture a hat that would keep the sun off your neck and out of your eyes, act as an umbrella during rain, and was light and durable.
This first hat, ‘Boss of the Plains’, was the first real cowboy hat (as opposed to the hats cowboys were wearing from their previous vocations), followed by the ‘Carlsbad’, easily identified by its main crease down the front. Stetsons quickly became known as the hat of the West.
Cowboy-style hats had a women’s fashion moment in the late 1960s-early 1970s and royal women weren’t immune. The style has a few gentle ripples on royal heads today, although has been refined and modernised. Then Princess Margrethe of Denmark is pictured in Paris in 1970 wearing a broad-brimmed cowboy hat. The styling is very 70s too, isn’t it, with the heavily patterned cravat-type scarf.
In 1952 film star Grace Kelly starred in the Western ‘High Noon’ opposite Gary Cooper so likely knew a thing or two about Stetsons – and here she is, a princess now, wearing one in Liverpool on May 5, 1967, with Prince Rainier carrying 2-year-old Princess Stephanie. I like the curl on the brim of the hat, it gives it that dash of “je ne sais quoi”. Another photo agency’s caption describes the hat as by Dior but I couldn’t find any corroboration for that anywhere!
Looking through the hats Princess Margaret of Great Britain wore over the years is an eye-opening experience. Many times she went out on the edge with her millinery choices (sometimes toppling over the edge, but that’s the risk when you’re avant garde) but it does mean she was always interesting for royal hat-watchers. This hat, amazingly, is among the more staid she’s worn. Pictured below at Ascot with her husband Lord Snowden in 1970, she took the chinstrap off the next year when she wore the hat to a summer church service.
On a 1958 tour of Canada, the Mayor of Calgary presented Princess Margaret with “a royal blue western-style hat engraved with maple leaves”, and in 1969 a caption describes her as wearing “an attractive Stetson style hat” to open a trade exhibition in London. The hat appeared to have a furry look and seems to be a coloured version of this hat worn in Canada, most likely in 1971.
Modernising the look – but it’s design origins are still visible – is Queen Mathilde of Belgium, who wore this beautiful hat in 2016.
And here’s a beautiful blue version of the same style, worn by Lady Gabriella Windsor in 2012.
I would even suggest that this 2002 Trooping the Colour hat of Gabriella’s fits the brief, mainly thanks to the pinch at the top of the crown.
Of course, royals also get to wear rootin-tootin, gosh-dang, yee-ha real cowboy hats, especially on visits to the famous Calgary Stampede. Here are the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attending the city’s famous Stampede in 2011.
Crown Princess Victoria at the 1997 wedding of Infanta Christina of Spain. What, you don’t think this is a cowboy hat?
Compare it to the ‘outlaw’ hats Robert Redford and Paul Newman wore in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ and see what I mean.
Akubra hats are Australia’s equivalent to the Stetson, although mostly haven’t crossed the divide from working hat to fashion hat. The company was started in Hobart, Tasmania in 1874 by English migrant Benjamin Dunkerley, who also invented a machine to strip the under-fur from rabbit pelts, making it economically viable for hat-making. Another English migrant Stephen Keir joined the firm, by this time based in Sydney, in 1904, the next year marrying Benjamin’s daughter. The company has remained in Keir hands ever since. The trade name Akubra was registered in 1912. Akubra hats have been worn at numerous Olympic Games, by Australian soldiers around the world, in the movies (‘Crocodile Dundee’ 1986) and by stockmen and women throughout Australia.
A young Prince Harry wore an Aukbra for a photo shoot during his 2003 gap year in Australia, spending four months as a jackaroo (general hand) on a cattle station (ranch) owned by friends of his mother. His father sported an Akubra during a 1994 visit as did Prince William in 2011.
And King Willem-Alexander didn’t miss out in 2016.
The natural fit for a cowboy-style hat among female royals must be Zara Tindall, and here she is in an out-and-out version worn to the 2004 Christmas service at Sandringham, described in the caption as a ‘bush-hat’ so more of an Akubra than a Stetson and a fitting full stop to this particular hat journey.
Thanks, Sandra! It’s so interesting to see this style crossover from casual work hat to stylish women’s royal hat! I can’t help but note that Queen Elizabeth did not don a stetson for a mini-version of the Calgary Stampede, staged especially for her in October 1951, although Prince Philip did! His hat, and the hats worn by sons Charles and Andrew in 1997 were all made by Canadian brand Smithbilt, who makes the official white hat of the stampede.
Photos from Getty as indicated and Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty