February 23, 2020

High Country News Editor Spooked by Cowboy Hats

Heather Graham in "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," a Nineties movie with a Seventies sensibility.

Brian Calvert, current editor of High Country News, recently had an anxiety attack about cowboy hats.

He probably has not read far enough back in the archive to know this, being relatively new, but this not the first time that HCN has tied itself into knots of political correctness over Western wear.

Back when HCN was published in Lander, Wyo., before Ed and Betsy Marston took it over in the 1980s (as I recall), they published an earnest editorial asking whether  environmental activists in the West could wear snap-button "Western" shirts, for example, lest they unwittingly identify with eee-vul ranchers and other earth-rapers.

The irony there is that "Western wear" as sold on Main Street was formalized by urban tailors after World War Two as costumes for musicians and actors. Even foreigners know this:
HCN founder Tom Bell wearing a
"problematic symbol." I don't mean
the eye patch.
El traje de vaquero era utilizado en esta época por los colonizadores, los hombres de montaña y durante la Guerra de Secesión o Guerra Civil Estadounidense. Igualmente, con los años ha ido popularizándose gracias a su relación con el estilo musical denominado country de la mano de cantantes como Gene Autry o Roy Rogers, muy populares en EE.UU. durante los años 40 y 50. 
In addition, without cowboy hat-wearing, environmentally concerned Wyoming rancher/biologist Tom Bell, who founded High Country News, Briant Calvert would not have his job and editorial pulpit.

Brian Calvert needs to tell these Navajo rodeo contestants
that their hats are "problematic." (VICE magazine).
Did he think about that before writing how the cowboy hat was "a symbol of power and exclusion"? That it is nothing but a prop to show who is American and who is not? He needs to get out more. Maybe he could meet these guys in the photo at right. They clearly are insufficiently "woke."

The broad-brimmed hat is practical in sunny country, as generations of wearers have known. And if it threatens to blow off, you need a "stampede string," as the old-timers called it.

And they are flattering to almost everyone. You don't have to be Heather Graham. I am sure that my grandfather, who sold Stetson hats in his store, had a whole line of patter about that!

Me, I've got one Stetson "Open Road, " kind of a compromise style, and one no-name low-crowned, pine sap-stained broad-brimmed hat in my cranial wardrobe. I plan to keep wearing both of them.


Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

"And if it threatens to blow off, you need a "stampede string," as the old-timers called it."

No you don't. If its loose enough to blow off. . . no matter how high the wind, it's too loose. Properly fitted, it won't.

The only reason to have a stampede string is to push the hat off to the back of your head in case you need to, so you don't loose your hat.

FWIW, I wear a cowboy hat whenever doing something outdoors, unless its winter, in which case I wear what people here call a "Scotch Cap" or some call a "Stormy Kromer". Undergoing angst about cowboy hats, which are simply one of a variety of broad brimmed hats, is just silly and frankly the sort of worrying that people do who don't have enough to do. They're great, and for semi arid country, they can't be beat to keep sun off your head, face and neck and the rain as well.

I guess this sort of thing shows shy I have up on the High Country News eons ago.

Chas S. Clifton said...

When it comes to hats, we have the advantage of a variety of sizes that probably were not available to the poorly paid 18-year-old cowhand of the Old West. We can even avail ourselves of fine custom hatmakers like Tom Hirt Those old-timers had to wear whatever they had -- some even preferred derby (bowler) hats because they stayed on better than Stetson's "Boss of the Plains," since they had narrower, stiffer brims.

Unknown said...

I have a hypothesis: HCN is now run by graduates from English and "studies" departments steeped in "critical theory" (which is neither). Their obsession is with what they've learned including Foucaltian analysis of power relationships, intersectionality, and all that stuff. Thus the shift in HCN from natural resource issues and conservation to race, gender, and power -the mantra of the new humanities. I wonder if Brian has ever had to spend a day moving cows. Then you appreciate a good cowboy hat. Felt in fall and winter. Straw in summer.

Chas S. Clifton said...

"Thus the shift in HCN from natural resource issues and conservation to race, gender, and power -the mantra of the new humanities"

That shift is indeed happening, but even under the Marstons, HCN was more about politics than conservation. For example, I did a couple of shorter articles for them in the early 1990s, but they always wanted a political angle, such as when Colorado voters ended the spring bear-hunting season through ballot issue. That they liked. An article on "bears as bears" did not interest them.