Here are some general rules for storage with the key to all of it being – don’t put pressure on the crown or brim as this may eventually cause the hat to lose its shape.
1. If you do have to lay it on a flat surface, do so with the brim up and crown down to minimize stress on the brim. Laying it brim down will slowly warp the shape of the brim (unless it’s a simple flat, round brim).
2. Hang the hat on a hat stand so that the crown is supported and the brim it isn’t pressing down on anything.
3. Hang the hat on the edge of shelf such that the brim is touching nothing.
4. During long periods when your hat is not worn, it is probably better to store the hat in a hat box where it will be best protected from light, dust and damage. An alternative is to create a cardboard ring (Take a 7″ x 28″ strip of Cardboard and staple it together to form a ring that you can lay the hat in.
Store hats in a cool, dry environment. Hats react to heat and moisture with extended exposure potentially causing a hat to lose its shape. Excessive heat can draw out straw hat fibers, and cause permanent damage to both straw and felt. Moisture can cause the shape to lose integrity and may even mold or rot. Even a hat left in a hot car can easily suffer damage from heat and humidity. The worst place for a cowboy hat is in the backseat window of a hot car or truck.
Contrary to the belief of some, felt hats were designed to be used in the rain as that was part of their original function. Wool hats are usually for dry climates and it is not recommended for situations where they might get wet unless you use a water repellant spray – more on that in the next section. Straw hats can handle a light rain for a brief time but nothing more unless the hat is a palm leaf straw.
If a felt hat gets wet, invert the sweat band so it’s sticking out of the hat. Then stand the hat on the hat band using a clean, level surface. Let the hat dry slowly and on it’s own. Don’t use heat to accelerate drying as that could cause the leather sweat band to shrink. Ensure that the brim does not rest on the surface because pressure of any sort on a wet hat will warp the hat after it is dry.
If a straw hat gets wet, wipe off the water with a clean dry cloth and then turn the sweatband out and place on a level, clean surface to dry. Turning out the sweatband after a hard day sweating in your hat, preserves the length of time that your hat is going to be of service. With the band turned out, perspiration and hair oil evaporate and dry out instead of being transferred to the hat. This is the case with straw hats as well as felt. Any hat that is rain soaked can potentially sustain water damage.
Protecting and Cleaning Hats
A good idea is to protect a hat from water damage by a non-silicone based protector. I often need to wear my wool hat in pouring rain and swear by this as now my hats just bead off any moisture and I avoid the prospect of a sopping wet hat. I use one called, simply enough, “The Protector”. It’s available from B&L products, 547 South 20th St, West, Billings, MT 59102. Many hat shops seem to carry this one so you might want to check there first. I usually spray it on and lightly brush it into the felt and then it dries. If you just let the protectant sit on the surface it seems to give an unwanted sheen to the hat. So far my method seems to have worked.
If your felt hat does get some rain spotting after it dries, you can use a felt hat cleaning sponge to remove the stains. For keeping felt hats clean, brushes work well but make sure you use different sets for dark and light-colored hats otherwise you might end up transferring color between hats.
If your hat really gets trashed with heavy dirt and stains, it’s probably best have a professional bring your hat back to life. They can clean and reshape a hat that looked hopeless at one point.
Straw hats can be kept clean and fresh looking much longer if they are brushed regularly with a brim brush or an ordinary whisk broom. They can be cleaned using a damp sponge with non-detergent soap and lukewarm water. Then let it dry naturally.
Felt hats should be brushed regularly with a brim brush to remove dust and dirt. Starting on the left side of the hat brush counter clockwise around, brushing the crown and brim in the same direction. On the underside of the brim, brush clockwise.
Sometimes, a hat may lose it’s shape due to mishandling, heat or moisture but this can usually be addressed by a professional. They can “reblock” the hat which means the hat is placed in a shaping block and they steam it back into the correct shape. If you only need to reshape the hat slightly, such as change the curve of the brim, you can go to a hat or western store and have them steam shape the hat.
For more information on cowboy hat maintenance, please visit TheCowboyHatGuide.com.