July 13, 2005
We’ve got a mystery brewing. For the next issue (September) we wanted to do something on the ever increasing popularity of the so-called Tom Mix hat style. You know, the single crease down the middle with the two side pinches (if you don’t know what I'm referring to, look at my hat, above).
As popular as the style is today (in fact it's almost a glut), when I was a kid nobody would be caught dead in this style hat unless you were a rodeo clown or going to a costume ball and wanted to look ridiculous. Of course, the style predominated in the 1920s thru the 1930s in the Western serials and with Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Country Swing types, but about the end of WWII it started to fade and by the time I was growing up in the 1950s it was long gone.
As I remember it, in the seventies certain outlaw musicians like Asleep at the Wheel and Jerry Jeff Walker started wearing the big Tom Mix style hats again. I remember being at the Prescott Rodeo Parade in about 1977 and one of the sheriff's posse guys came by wearing one and I thought, "Man, that is so out, it’s in." I bought my first Tom Mix that year and have worn the style ever since (and of course, it's no coincidence that Honkytonk Sue wears the hat style as well).
As we developed the article we had to deal with the other names for this hat style that have evolved, like "The Gus," in honor of Robert Duvall who, as Gus, wears this crease in the tv series Lonesome Dove. Peter Fonda also wore the crease in The Hired Hand and Steve McQueen dons one in Tom Horn. Some companies even call the hat style “The Quigley” in honor of Tom Selleck who starred in Quigley Down Under and wore the crease.
But I grew up knowing this hat style as the Tom Mix. So when it came time to illustrate this piece, I looked in our massive photo archives for a photo of the Western silent film idol wearing his namesake and lo and behold, every single photo I found, Tom is not wearing the crease. Of course he's wearing a big, ol' hat, but white or black, his crease is more "reach and grab," meaning as you reach for the crown of a hat to pick it up, your thumb and forefinger creates indentations on either side if you squeeze. But no center crease with the distinctive 45 degree angle.
This is shocking to a hat Nazi like me! I just naturally assumed there were tons of photos of Tom Mix wearing his signature hat. But I have to confess, I've been looking for two days now and I can't find a single photo of Tom Mix wearing a Tom Mix. Amazing. This afternoon I solicited Gary Rosenthal of the Stetson Hat Co. and he insisted they have a photo of Tom Mix in the lobby wearing the hat style, but when I challenged him, he put the phone down and ran out there and looked, and you guessed it, it was a different crease. Gary still can’t believe it because he's been with Stetson for 35 years and they have always called this hat style, the Tom Mix. He assures me he is going home tonight and look through his files because like me, he just assumed Stetson called the hat the Tom Mix because, well, Tom wore one.
There are theories of course. Hatmaker Tom Hirt from Penrose, Colorado believes someone just called the hat a "Tom Mix" when his name came to mind and the name just settled on the star, even though he perhaps never wore one.
Here's the challenge: if anyone can find me a photo of Tom Mix wearing a Tom Mix style I’ll eat my hat. Ha. Actually I'll buy you lunch at your favorite place. I'm not joking.
"Truth burns up error."
—Old Vaquero Saying
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