Meanwhile, Back At Old Joe’s Barroom

9 Aug

So, I was bopping along with my headphones on, and I got a concept stuck in my craw:

When I die, want you to dress me in straight laced shoes
A box back coat and a Stetson hat;
Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain
So the boys know I died standin’ pat.

Louis Armstrong’s version of St. James Infirmary

Which struck me, as I’d just finished listening to:

“Stagger Lee,” said Billy,
“I can’t let you go with that.
“You have won all my money,
“And my brand-new Stetson hat.”

Lloyd Prices’ Stagger Lee

While I’ve a long familiarity with Stetsons, I hadn’t realized they were once considered a status symbol.

Stetson produced a very expensive hat. The Cowboy riding the range wearing that “Boss of the Plains” hat showed the world that he was doing well. “Within a decade the name John B. Stetson became synonymous with the word “hat,” in every corner and culture of the West.” – wikipedia

An easy enough concept, even for a city dweller. In my youth it was high-end sneakers, and, in my adulthood, I know plenty of folks who drive cars as a mark of status, and not as a device that transports them from location to location.

The thing is, Stetsons were obviously originally marketed to cowboys – who exactly were they attempting to impress, out on the range?

An interesting side-note:

According to Win Blevins’ Dictionary of the American West (p388), the term “ten-gallon” has nothing to do with the hat’s liquid capacity, but derives from the Spanish word galón (braid), ten indicating the number of braids used as a hat band. – wikipedia

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4 Responses to “Meanwhile, Back At Old Joe’s Barroom”

  1. bmj2k August 9, 2010 at 12:49 #

    I always found it odd that many of the famous men of the West- Wild Bill Hickok, Bufflao Bill, etc, were such fancy dressers. The average cowboy was always dusty and dirty- they worked in the dirt with cows and bulls! I think the Stetson hat, the fancy waistcoat, the gold pocket watch, all those things added to their fame-remember, in their later years, many of them became showmen- and like kids wearing Air Jordans today, the Stetson emulated their heroes and therefore elevated them. And of course, there really were no famous “cowboys”- most of the ones who achieved fame were either lawmen or crooks. Even the famous Doc Holliday was a dentist. Maybe many of them wanted to be above just being a mere cowboy, thus the Stetson.

    Or I could just be talkling out of my (Stetson) hat.

    Anyway, interesting topic. I never thought of it that way before.

    • JRD Skinner August 9, 2010 at 14:27 #

      That’s a great point about the reality of the famous “cowboys”. It’s sort of an odd feedback loop: cowboys inspiring showmen, inspiring cowboys.

      I wonder if the price point, like Air Jordans, is part of the appeal as well – not as expensive as a big screen TV or a new horse, but something even the chronically poor (Blues Musicians, Cowboys) can aspire too.

      I also find it interesting that they’re both something that’s immediately visible, but might only carry status with those ‘in the know’.

      • bmj2k August 10, 2010 at 13:34 #

        Run of the mill cowboys were pretty looked down upon. Afterall, they were the lowest of men on the totem pole. This is a bit contemporary but I think it fits- look at Of Mice and Men. They were cramped in a bunkhouse, uneducated, little future. Guys like Curly wore the Stetson hats. A good hat like a Stetson might elevate you above the masses, identify you with the higher (or at least richer) class.

        Of course, Slim didn’t need a Stetson- he was Slim.

      • JRD Skinner August 11, 2010 at 13:01 #

        Great connection – well played.

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