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The Origin of the 10-Gallon Hat

By Taylor James


Updated on

If you’re curious about cowboy fashion or looking for an intriguing conversation starter to broach at your next cocktail party, the origin of the 10-gallon hat is an excellent subject to explore.

The 10-gallon hat is a large wide-brimmed hat with a tall rounded crown. It was typically worn by cowboys and has become one of the most defining headpieces to date.

These iconic hats have been associated with cowboys for many years; in fact, when you imagine a cowboy, he’s likely tipping his 10-gallon hat to a pretty lady, a straw stick in his mouth, like a character straight out of an old Western movie. So, where did this hat come from? And why the name? Can it really hold ten gallons of water? Continue reading to learn more about the origin of the classic 10-gallon hat.

Man wearing a '10 gallon' hat

Can a 10-gallon hat hold ten gallons of water?

Some people take the expression literally, believing that it refers to how much liquid can be carried inside the hat. While we have to admit that would be pretty cool, it’s sadly false. The name is an over-exaggeration – the kind of content you’d see in a kid’s cartoon show. In fact, a 10-gallon hat only holds ¾ gallons or 3 quarts. Yeah, not quite as attention-grabbing.

Two Linguistic Theories Behind the Name

Many experts claim that the name might have been created due to a language barrier. Ranchers from Texas and the Southwest often encountered Mexican vaqueros who wore sombreros decorated with braided hatbands called “galóns.” So a 10-gallon hat referred to a hat that could hold ten braided hatbands; it was not an advertisement of the hat’s holding capacity.

Along the same vein, other people believe that the expression is a take on the Spanish phrase “tan galán,” meaning “really handsome” or “so gallant.” In this case, the name “10-gallon hat” served to describe a good-looking, hat-sporting cowboy in the Wild West who respected women and specialized in swoon-worthy acts of bravery.

What does the 10-gallon hat represent?

Other than suave cowboys, of course.

The 10-gallon hat is thought to be a symbol of good and evil, which was highly represented in Hollywood. Bad guys who always had one hand on their pistol wore black hats. Meanwhile, white hats were reserved for good guys who protected what was important to them.

Though the hat is traditionally associated with the Wild West, the expression didn’t become popular until the 1920s, during the rise of silent films. Famous actors like Tim McCoy and Tom Mix wore 10-gallon hats on set, drawing attention to the oversized style. More recently, the hat is worn by well-known figures, including Tim McGraw and Robert DuVall. Now, the 10-gallon hat seems to be immortalized for its intriguing name and classic style.

Unfortunately, we’ll never be certain about how the 10-gallon hat earned its infamous name. However, we suspect that’s how the mysterious cowboys would have wanted it. A hat of mystery is an unforgettable one, after all.

About Taylor James

As Philip Treacy once said, “How a hat makes you feel is what a hat is all about.” And on that note, I hope you enjoy your hats and find the site useful. Learn more about Hat Realm's Editorial Process.