In the world of hats, some are almost too similar to tell the difference between the styles. And upon first glance, an outback hat and a cowboy hat can look the same. But a few important differences can tell which is which (and which you should wear).
Imagine the opening scene of a movie. A person rides on horseback across a rugged desert. There is a cloud of dirt rising up behind the horses' hooves. The rider has leather boots and a lasso, covered in dust. She takes her hat off and her long hair blows in the dusty desert wind. Now, at this point, you’re not sure if this scene is from the Australian outback or the American west. But if you take a close look at the hat, you’ll find your answer. The slight differences between the outback hat from Australia and the western cowboy hat tell all.
Outback Hat vs Cowboy Hat
So- how can you tell the difference between these two styles? It comes down to a few details. Both hats feature wide brims that protect the wearer from harsh weather and hot sun. On a cowboy hat, you’ll find a rounded brim. While the outback hat has a flat brim. Another telltale difference is the crown. The crown of a cowboy hat is rounded and pinched at the top. And the crown of an outback hat is flat on top or has only a slight crease.
So- how did these two deceptively similar hats come to be? They were actually first designed at the same time. But on two opposite ends of the earth.
The Outback hat: Australia At Heart
In the mid-1800s, Benjamin Dunkerly moved to Sydney, Australia from England and started a hat company that he named Akubra. Akubra has roots in an Aboriginal word that means “heat covering,” which is pretty fitting for a hat company. He focused on making hats that were fit for the harsh conditions of Australia. Notably, the Australian outback. So, his hat featured a wide brim to protect from the sun and a comfortable crown that could be worn all day.
Akubra hats became Australia's most famous felt outback hats, but other hatmakers put their own notable spin on the design. Most well know for this is Bill Conner. He created the first outback hats made from leather. This uber-durable material quickly became a worldwide hit. Movies like “Crocodile Dundee” and “Man from Snowy River” brought Conner’s leather styles to the forefront of popular culture. These outback hats were even named the official hat of the Brisbane World Fair in 1988. Thus, the outback hat grew from an Australian work style to a worldwide favorite.
Cowboy Hats: Designed In The United States
Around the same time that Dunkerly was starting Akubra, John B. Stetson was working on his own hat that soon became the most iconic staple for the American cowboy. These days, the typical cowboy hat has a rounded, curved brim and a well-defined pinched crown. However, it didn’t always have this look.
When John B. Stetson was first manufacturing these hats in Philadelphia, he had a pretty basic design. His first hat, the “Boss of the Plains,” was released in 1865. This had a smooth, rounded crown and a round, flat brim. By today’s cowboy style standards, the hat was rather ordinary in design. However, like the original Akubra outback hats, this style was durable and functional. Which made it ideal for the working cowboys in the American West. Cowboy hats for men and cowboy hats for women soon became incredibly popular.
As the cowboy hat rose in popularity, it also evolved to better suit the needs of workers. In later versions, hat makers deepened the pinch on the crown of the hat to allow better control. And they curved up the hats’ brims to stay out of the way of the rope.
What are Cowboy And Outback Hats Made Of?
The original outback hats were made using fur from the abundant rabbit population in Australia. Currently, Australian outback hats are made of leather, canvas, cotton, and wool felt.
When cowboy hats were first made, Stetson made them out of fur from beavers, rabbits, and other small animals. As cowboy hats for men and cowboy hats for women became more popular, the materials they were made of expanded. Now, cowboy hats are made of wool felt, raffia, straw, and sometimes (but not often), leather.
So, another easy way to tell outback hat vs. cowboy hat? Look at the materials. If the hat is made of raffia or straw, it’s likely a cowboy hat. If it’s made from canvas, it’s probably an Australian outback hat.
Ready to become an expert at telling these two hats apart? Here’s what you need to know:
Outback Hat: Style Characteristics
Australian outback hats have a very similar silhouette to an American cowboy hat. But the shape is more flexible, slightly more relaxed, and is typically a bit softer. Also, the brim tends to be flat on the sides and slightly downturned on the front and back. If there is a crease at the top of an outback hat, it’s much less pronounced than that of a cowboy hat.
Cowboy Hat: Style Characteristics
Cowboy hats share one main feature with outback hats: a wide brim. Unlike the outback style, western hats feature upturned brims. It looks like the hat is curled up on the sides. This difference keeps sun protection high but helps keep the wide brim out of those who work in the hat. Also, cowboy hats feature a deep crease or a pinch on the top of the crown. This can differ greatly from style to style. But it’s quite different from the flat or slight crease of an outback hat.
When Should You Wear A Cowboy vs. Outback Hat?
These functional and stylish hats aren’t just for work anymore, and both styles are popular worldwide. But, there are still a few things to keep in mind.
When and Where To Use A Western Hat
Cowboy hats have morphed from a functional tool to a popular accessory. Now, many folks, not just working cowboys, wear western hats. If you’re visiting a ranch or attending a rodeo in the Southwest, you’ll look at home in this style. Seasonally, wear felt hats in the winter to help keep warm and dry. In the summer, people usually wear straw hats to protect them from the sun and heat.
When wearing your cowboy hat, it is important to remember to keep the brim down in front to protect your eyes from the sun. However, if you are wearing your hat for a more formal event, you might consider wearing the brim up to look more sophisticated.
When Should You Wear an Outback Hat?
Outback hats are designed to protect you from the rugged climate of the Australian outback. But the useful style has spread. Now, you’ll spot this style globally, even way down in the ranches of Patagonia. So if you’re spending the day outdoors and want to protect your skin, feel free to try to style. And when you’re in Australia, you’ll find the hat is popular with all people. From the city to rural lands.
Did you know? Bill Conner was one of the first people to popularize Outback Hats in the United States. Shop our Australian-made outback hats now!
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