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Although associated with the American West, the cowboy hat, arguably, is not an American creation. Arguably because there is no doubt that hats with big brims and large crowns had been popular in Mexico, coming to Mexico from Spain, well before the American West was "won". Historians trace the origins in Spain to the European invasions by the very accomplished horsemen from Mongolia. Nevertheless, like all hat styles, modifications, by such notables as John B. Stetson, did bring new iterations on an old theme and what we now know as the cowboy hat became inextricably tied to a place and time. The American West in both fact and legend was (and to a great extent still is) filled with such hats. John B. Stetson - the style and his name have become synonymous - introduced "The Boss of the Plains", and became a multi-millionaire. His story is American legend and resembles a cross between that of real life personality Johnny Appleseed and the fictional Horatio Alger protagonists. Stetson's rags beginning, ends with a 1906 death when his factory was turning out four million cowboy hats a year. Here was a hat that suited its surroundings. The big brim and high crown protected the cowboy from the elements--sun, rain, hail, snow, dust, mosquitoes and flies, and low branches. He could carry water in his hat or use it to whip his horse or cow. And, of course, this big handsome hat, in short order became his sartorial piece de resistance when courting the ladies. Early on, the style was picked up by notables like The Texas Rangers, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, Annie Oakley, and even George Custer was wearing a Stetson when he met his fate at Little Big Horn. When the movies came along, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, and, of course, John Wayne all became personalities that were inseparable from their hats. Politicians, like Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and currently George W. Bush, are happy to wear their western hats whereby they associate themselves with both their home states and the values of the old West. The style is forever being tweaked by designers and milliners and often becomes the leading style of the moment for women. Now is such a time. The movie Runaway Bride came along about at the same time that pop stars Madonna and Mary Blige were wearing cowboy hats on stage and the fashion trend reached a tipping point and just took off. Around the world, the style's popularity will come and go as is the nature of fashion trends, but the place and time of the cowboy hat and what it symbolizes will forever be etched in history.
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