Cowboy Up

The Western hat is a staple of Americana that crosses all borders.

The Western hat is an amazing piece of iconography. While often used in parody, it still represents deep authenticity as a symbol that works throughout America (and other countries, too).

As a promotional product, the cowboy hat may not have the range (no pun intended) of other items, but it’s much larger than you think thanks to a widespread infatuation with all things Western. Musical acts such as Taylor Swift, Mumford & Sons and Blake Shelton have scored mainstream success and fame. Western heritage products are constantly being resurrected and reinterpreted by top fashion labels such as Ralph Lauren.

Bottom line, when it comes to conjuring up a certain image of purely American individualistic, man-vs.-everything-else culture, the cowboy hat is hard to top. “A cowboy hat is truly iconic,” says David Goldman, vice president of Philadelphia Rapid Transit (asi/77945).

Despite being immediately identifiable to its native regions, the western hat ranks as an accessory for everyone due to what Goldman notes is the “strong country-fying of suburban areas everywhere.” As evidence of the rustic lifestyle’s appeal even deep within the heavily urbanized Northeast Corridor wherein he is based, Goldman notes the surprising popularity of local country radio (with Philly’s WXTU is in the top 10 according to nation-based Arbitron ratings). Plus, there are a large number of country music acts booked into Camden, NJ’s nearby performing arts center. Goldman’s business has had great success with cowboy hats, both in places where it might be expected – Alberta, Canada for instance – but also as an item with an international fan base. “We ship tens of thousands of cowboy hats around the world,” he says.

Dawn Cervenka, account executive with San Marcos, Texas-based RiverCity Sportswear (asi/309087), highlights this worldwide appeal with a story about the F1 in Schools Technology Challenge, an international competition based in Oxford, England that asks young students to design a superior Formula One race car. When the city of Austin, Texas hosted the 2013 World Finals, Cervenka’s company was chosen by the event’s organizers to supply 400 affordable, but faithful, cowboy hats, with ten of those hats logoed specially to honor the final winners. “I ordered a cowboy hat made out of felt, so they had that brushed wool feeling and looked very authentic,” Cervenka says. Competitors from all over the globe traveled to the Lone Star State for the challenge, with the coveted crown – and specially logoed cowboy hats – ultimately claimed by the Australian squad.

So how did this international crowd of teens react to their new headwear? “They absolutely loved it,” says Cervenka. “It was the epitome of what they imagined – that we’re all cowboys here.”
Paula Brant, president of Western Express (asi/96650), credits the “John Wayne mentality” that resonates with all Americans, and that informs the image of that mythical frontier that remains the America of popular imagination, here and abroad. “People do Western-themed weddings, BBQs and, of course, country music,” says Brandt. “Lots of people order for events anywhere in the world. They’re in NYC, in small towns, everywhere.”