The cowboy hat is a defining piece of attire for farm and ranch workers in the western and southern United States, Canada and northern Mexico, for country-western singers, and for participants in the North American rodeo circuit. It is recognized around the world as part of Old West cowboy lore.
The concept of a broad-brimmed hat with a high crown worn by a rider on horseback came primarily from the tradition of the Mexican vaquero. However, the cowboy hat as known today has many antecedents to its design, including Mexican hats such as the sombrero and galan, the various designs of wide-brimmed hat worn by farmers and stockmen in the eastern United States, as well as the design used by the United States Cavalry. The shape of a cowboy hat once depended very much on the region from which it originated. At one time a person could tell where a working cowboy was from simply looking at the crease in his hat. John B. Stetson is credited with designing and marketing the first "cowboy" hat in the USA, which he called the "Boss of the Plains."
In the early days, the cowboy hat was valued for being functional, with the wide brim protecting working cowboys from the sun and rain. It could be used to signal others, fan a campfire, or pull water out of a stream. Today, while the hats can still serve these purposes, most people wear them for aesthetic value as a part of Western lifestyle. A cowboy hat even appears on the flag of Calgary, Alberta, where "white hat ceremonies" are held by the civic government to welcome visiting dignitaries - the traditional gift from the city's mayor to foreign guests is a white cowboy hat.
Today, classic designs are available in muted colors such as black and various shades of beige, brown and gray, notably a warm light gray known as "silver belly". Styles for men and women are virtually identical, though women's cowboy hats are available in a much wider variety of colors, including bright, vivid shades.