Headsup! Steaming & Shaping Your Western Cowboy Hat

steaming and shaping western hat

I made a quick 'n' dirty appearance at a local Pinto show with my mom's 2 year old colt as a low-key schooling experience, and lived to tell the tale. Actually, he handled himself like a champ, so all went well.

But... that meant I had to pull some show clothes out of mothballs, including a new western hat waiting to make its debut.

About a thousand years ago, I worked at a tack store and used to shape hats for people. Those skills have been lost in the sands of time, and anymore I'm about as adept shaping hats as a sea bass. For one, I don't have a hat steamer, and two, I flat forgot how.

Fortunately, The Hat Lady was on the grounds, and she expertly transformed my hat to show-ready in a matter of minutes. Thank goodness for small favors, right? Even though the colt and I fairly decimated the in-hand trail course, my hat looked top notch.

If you never knew how to steam and shape a western cowboy hat, or forgot, all kinds of hat pros have shared their hat-shaping secrets on YouTube. Here's a basic primer from the Boot Barn that can be applied any western hat:

Sean Ryon shapes a straw hat (beginning at 4:34):

Big R takes their hat game to next level, including trimming the brim of a felt Stetson, and adding eyelets:

Which brings me to the elephant in the room: the pros use hat steamers. I suppose a really experienced hat shaper could get good results with just about anything, but their weapon of choice certainly appears to be a genuine hat steamer.

Palm leaf hats are a critter all their own - they can be shaped with only water!

I don't think I'm ready to give up a nice felt for a palm leaf yet, just for the convenience of shaping it from the sink. A little more searching lead to alternative ways to shape a palm leaf.

Well, that's all well and good, but I still own exactly zero palm leaf hats, while my closet is teeming with western felt hats, all needing some attention.

So, how much is a hat steamer, and is it worth it to shape your own hats? The DIY part of me says maybe it's practical, especially if you have several hats or show regularly. One could even argue that the convenience of having your own hat steamer might encourage better and more regular hat care, since they truly are investment pieces in your show wardrobe.

The more cautious side of me asks why buy an expensive gadget just to ruin a perfectly good hat, when a professional can do it quickly, inexpensively, and deliver great results? Then again, I'm not known for being cautious. Give me a Sharpie, X-acto knife and a miter saw, and I'm game for anything.

If one was so inclined, had the wherewithall, and was willing to sacrifice a few hats in the learning process, the entry level Jiffy Hat Steamer runs somewhere in the $150 range. The larger professional version adds about $100 to the price. In 10 hats or less, the smaller unit could pay for itself... if you didn't ruin any in the process.

Who's up for shaping their own hats?

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