Guest Post: Stetsons

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. 

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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! 

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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.

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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.

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Modernising the look – but it’s design origins are still visible – is Queen Mathilde of Belgium, who wore this beautiful hat in 2016.

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And here’s a beautiful blue version of the same style, worn by Lady Gabriella Windsor in 2012.

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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.

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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.

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Crown Princess Victoria at the 1997 wedding of Infanta Christina of Spain. What, you don’t think this is a cowboy hat?

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Compare it to the ‘outlaw’ hats Robert Redford and Paul Newman wore in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ and see what I mean.

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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.

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And King Willem-Alexander didn’t miss out in 2016.

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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.

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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. 

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Photos from Getty as indicated and Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty 

46 thoughts on “Guest Post: Stetsons

  1. Just found this so thought I would add it for the sake of completeness and because, well, it’s cute that it’s like mother, like daughter. Princess Caroline in London in 1973 – with Jake Blues driving the car!

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  2. Another more recent western/cowboy-adjacent hat from Queen Margrethe:
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  3. We can’t forget this fantastic ensemble of Princess Claire of Belgium.
    July 21, 2004: National Day
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  4. I have to add my favorite royal western hat: the sequined/rhinestone-studded/sparkly brown one Queen Anne-Marie wore to Princess Anne’s wedding in 1973! (can’t embed this photo unfortunately: https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/her-royal-highness-princess-anne-and-her-wedding-party-news-photo/594371884). I was unaware until today that Anne-Marie repeated this hat at another wedding in 1975:
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    As to Crown Princess Victoria’s hat, I would call what she wore a coachman’s hat or equestrienne hat (which is like a top hat with a short crown), but after seeing that photo of Paul Newman, I also recognize the resemblance.

    Thanks Sandra for this great post which elaborates on some hat styles/brands I mentioned in my men’s hats posts last year. I learned a few things about Stetson I was unaware of before! And as you alluded to: Stetson and Akubra are actually brand names, so all Stetsons and Akubras are hats, but not all hats are Stetsons and Akubras. 😉

    P.S. The chinstraps were apparently more popular than I realized on fashionable hats for a time, but my favorite remains this one on Audrey Hepburn from “How To Steal A Million”: https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/audrey-hepburn-at-the-studio-de-boulogne-during-the-making-news-photo/644198602 (sorry, so many photos I can’t embed unfortunately!).

    • Nice finds Jake. I’m not sure I can love a sparkly cowboy hat (just like P Margaret’s furry one leaves me cold) but that photo of Audrey Hepburn is magnificent. She’s so full of joie de vivre and the while look is so 1960s it just makes me smile.

  5. I love that look on Mathilde–particularly with the unexpected contrast with Max wearing the more subdued hat.

  6. What an engaging post, Sandra! Great story about John Stetson spotting a need, and it’s funny to think of such a western style originating in the East. I knew of the “photo op” Stensons many royals have worn for events like the Calgary Stampede, but I didn’t realize there were so many chic versions. My favorite is Lady Gabriella’s blue — yummy color. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t know the name “Akubra” until now. I’ve just thought of them as Aussie or outback hats. Now I know!

  7. fabulous post Sandra – so many awesome and unforgettable hats –and I love the extra pics in the comments too.

    Sandra you inspired me to read up on cowboy hats, and I was surprised to discover how many different styles were worn in the C19th. Some are quite out there, with exaggerated shapes, detailing and scale.
    It’s interesting that the styles we commonly see today are, in comparison, moderate in scale and height. Obviously these designs are practical too, or they wouldn’t have continued to be worn by working people on the job.
    I can’t help noticing how flattering these hats are to pretty much everyone. I love it when something useful and practical is so aesthetically pleasing as well.
    A note on chinstraps in the 1960s; they were indeed a trend, linked to the “military” and “safari” looks: https://flashbak.com/schone-frau-far-out-german-fashions-of-1966-1968-365991/burda-moden-june-1967-5/ Quite a few royals got on board with this trend at the time. HQ, perhaps this could be a topic for a post?

  8. Hi everyone, sorry for my tardy appearance here … but my (paid) work has been going through some ups and downs, as you might imagine. A meeting of the big cheeses earlier this week seems to have resolved a lot of uncertainty and we can now move into at least the immediate future with some confidence. Whew! I’ll go and respond to the neat comments people have been leaving. Thanks so much for supporting this collection!

  9. The closest we’ll ever see HM wearing a “kind of” cowboy hat is from a trip to the USA. Not a Stetson for sure. It’s included in a hat exhibition, also. How many of those hats are recognizable? I see a couple surprises in the mix.

    July 9, 1976: New York
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    https://www.theweek.co.uk/75362/fashioning-a-reign-inside-the-queens-wardrobe

    • Great catch, Jimbo. The brim curve is certainly there! It’s interesting- this is natural straw hat and white frock is a 1976 version of what the Duchess of Cornwall wore yesterday.

      I’m also struck by the simple embellishment on the hat- just a knotted hatband. It doesn’t need anything more than this. Which makes me wonder about royal hats trimmed with knots. I think we have a discussion question for next week….

  10. Sandra, thanks for a very interesting post today. I love seeing the Royals from a different perspective, and you chose some great events.
    Here’s Charles and Camilla wearing Columbian cowboy hats, and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

    October 31, 2014, Columbia
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    Prince Henrik was presented with a black Stetson for his 77th birthday:
    June 16, 2011: Solvang (scroll down for 2 great photos)
    https://syvnews.com/news/local/syv-royal-visit/collection_870dd524-9707-11e0-b286-001cc4c03286.html#1

    • These are great additions, thanks Jimbo. Henrik looked great in his Stetson – he wore hats well, didn’t he? I never thought about looking for South American cowboy hats (mind you the Brits and Argentina probably haven’t mixed for a while)!

    • These Colombian hats are called sombrero vueltiao, and while originally more functional and largely popular with farmers, etc., they are now a national symbol of Colombia, hence why Charles and Camilla are wearing them when they visited Cartagena. I thought about buying one when I visited Colombia, but as I was traveling to Brazil after, I didn’t want to worry about damaging it; at least that gives me an excuse to return! Also, there is a street in the Colombian capital of Bogotá called “Calle de los Sombreros”, or “Street of the Hats” as there are 6 hat shops in a row on one block; it was amazing to see!

      And yes, Prince Henrik looks great in that hat; like Sandra said, he wore hats well!

      • Thanks for that fascinating info about the Colombian hats Jake. A Middle Eastern city I used to live in had streets named Bread (full of bakers), Electricity (where a big sub-station was) and Water Tanker (where the vehicles all lined up to fill) – the expats used the same names too, just went with the direct translation.

        • Interesting bit of trivia about the street names, Sandra, but the seeming lack of creativity in street naming is not limited to those countries. Right here in Central Florida in my local neighborhood is “Power Line Road”, which as you can imagine, parallels the miles long row of tall electrical towers.

          Thank you so much for this excellent post and accompanying photos, Sandra — I enjoyed it quite a bit!

          • Consider my leg pulled, Jimbo! Another addition to this list that I didn’t remember before (and this is real, not leg-pulling) is that in a different direction we have “Detour Road”, which at some point stopped being a detour but remained a road while still keeping its original name. I’ve always imagined that if I ever had to give anyone directions to my house that included Detour Road, they would ask “How do we get there once the detour is over?”

          • Thanks Matthew. I was brought up opposite Speedy Road, which no one who lives/lived there thinks is remotely funny because it was named for a local family. 🙂

  11. I actually saw William and Kate in 2011 in Calgary. They had a “mini-Stampede” event the evening before the actual parade that your photos are from. They allowed members of the public into that “private” event only if you had a ticket. I left my husband at home with my baby, lined up at midnight with a bunch of other Royal fans until they opened the ticketing centre at 9am. It was a long night that actually went by pretty fast and was so fun. The overnight line snake for probably 2 km’s, and when we finally got through the doors, we had our choice of the “purple line,” or the “blue line” to get tickets. I chose blue because it was the color of her engagement ring. I chose wisely as the corral we were situated in was the closest to W&K. I could hear their conversation with the rodeo cowboys, as well as with Mrs Harper (the PM’s wife). At one point, William climbed on the gate to get a closer look at the bulls and Kate warned him to “be careful William!” I got some great photos of them, but I can’t attach jpegs here. It was a wonderful experience and I’ll never forget that.

    Also, a fun little tidbit as to why the hats worn at the Stampede by the Royals are white. Calgary has a tradition that visitors, dignitary’s or guests will get “white hatted” in a ceremony. The mayor would present the hats, along with a certificate to the visiting Royals. Anyone can get “white hatted” if you apply, and the premise behind it is that you arrive in Calgary as a visitor, but leave as a friend.

    Here’s a photo of the then Duke and Duchess of York wearing stetsons at the Medicine Hat Stampede in 1987:
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    • Hi Shanon, Thanks for that extra information about the Calgary Stampede hats. One of the great things about this site is all the little tidbits that come out … and you’d be amazed at how that knowledge can come in handy (particularly in quizzes)! Although your night in the queue sounds arduous, it also sounds like fun, and a memory for life.

      • I think I went because I had insomnia from having a young one around the house. I thought “well, I’m already up.” TBH, it was probably quite insane to bring a chair and sit in line with a bunch of strangers at night!!! But, I assessed the situation, and there were a lot of royal revellers, people went out and bought and shared coffee and donuts with everyone and the police wandered around laughing at us. It was probably very similar to how Londoners waited around to watch the Royal Wedding live.

        I do love to hear everyone’s little tidbits too!

        • My mother-in-law just coincidentally was visiting England at the time of the coronation of George VI, and decided to join the crowds gathering beside the London streets back then, so this idea of lining up to catch glimpses of royalty is certainly not new!

    • Awesome story Shanon. I queued for Harry and Meghan a few years back, but I had to call it quits and give up my place after a few hours of standing (no sitting down possible) in the hot sun. So glad you had that experience. BTW, love those pale aqua stetsons!

      • I suspect that many of us here have stories about seeing or trying to see Royals. I had the pleasure of seeing a production of “Faust” by the Welsh National Opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York “with” Princess Diana, who was a patron of the opera company. No, unfortunately I did not get to be anywhere near her, but I was seated right behind David and Elizabeth Emmanuel, who were not yet out of favor if I recall correctly. I had come early in the day dressed in business clothes and managed to walk right in, passing for staff, and wander around the place talking to people for quite a long time before anyone realized that I didn’t have a staff id and made me go out and come back through the security entrance showing my ticket for the event. Though I didn’t get to meet the Princess (you had to make a big donation to do that), that was the occasion when I had a very interesting (and quite long) conversation with the photographer Tim Graham while he was setting up his equipment — I’m sure in hindsight that he did think I was a member of staff.

        Also, my left elbow made it onto the local TV coverage of the event, though not the rest of me as I was stuck behind a very tall person who refused to move, LOL!

        • Such a great story Matthew! I think chatting to the people who live in that Royal orbit would be fascinating! Tim Graham is a legend, so well done!

    • I was born in Calgary, Alberta, but my parents moved back to the USA when I was 1 year old. My parents let me use a white cowboy hat they had bought in Calgary for a High School event. Unfortunately, there were leftover pies from a pie eating contest which we ended up tossing around and my hat got the worst of it with a chocolate cream pie landing on it. I tried to wash it off to no avail! (I won’t say who started throwing pies.) My parents thought I was old enough by then to loan it to me, but, obviously I wasn’t. How I would love to have that hat, now!!

  12. Thank you Sandra for this very interesting and well researched post!
    Maybe the cowboy hat is a bit like blue jeans: starting out like workman’s clothing and ending up as a fashion item.
    As to chin straps: Princess Grace is sporting a chin strap too with her 1967 high crowned version of the cowboy hat and as she was considered a very elegant woman, it must have been a fashion trend in those years!

    • Hi Wies, I have been thinking of you, even if I haven’t been commenting, and hope things are going well for you and your business during these difficult times. I think you’re right that the cowboy hat, and probably cowboy boots too, have made the same cross-over into fashion as jeans/dungarees and even (in the 1980s at least) boilersuits. My father was a farmer and always wore a tweedy hat with a floppy brim for work – rain or shine. Until he replaced it, and I was of an age to notice, I never realised that it started out as a tweedy trilby! A few good falls of rain on it and it turned it what I was more used to seeing!

      • Hi Sandra, thank you for your concerns. The last months have been, well … confusing. I know quite a few milliners who closed their shops or workrooms and started working from home. As I never had a shop (too expensive) and always worked from home and by appointment only, I didn’t have to make big changes in my business. But of course with all events and weddings cancelled, one can’t help wondering if their is any use in carrying on.

        I am very glad to hear you kept your job. Loosing your health is a terrible thing, but loosing your income isn’t much better!
        As for me and my family, we wouldn’t be able to live on my income at the best of times. By chance, my husband has kept his work and his salary, which is something to be very grateful for at a time when so many people are being made redundant, or are going to be.

        Millinery seems a rather frivolous occupation in these difficult times, but maybe we need some frivolity to take our minds of our worries?

    • My recollection of that era is that mass-produced cowboy hats that were marketed for costumes or for play hats for children routinely had chin straps on the hats that were intended for girls. In fact, aside from the occasional blue or pink hatband, a chin strap or none were the only thing style-wise that distinguished otherwise identical hats sold for boys or girls.

  13. Thanks for this informative and entertaining post! I’m surprised Margaret kept the chin strap for the first outing of her stetson – a very unattractive addition. Just loved Mathilde’s red, Gabriella’s bright blue and Zara’s khaki versions.

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