Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Strange Prejudice Towards the Mexican Sugarloaf Sombrero

February 9, 2016
   It all started with the revelation that the producers of "Lonesome Dove" wanted Robert Duvall to wear this style of hat:

Daily Whip Out: "Gus In A Sugarloaf Sombrero"

   This led to a vigorous conversation about whether Duvall made the right choice in terms of his hat style, which to my eye is historically wrong for that time period (1860s). Several fans of Westerns then made the claim that the much maligned sombrero would never be worn by big stars because they look silly and don't look right on 'Mericans. But then Jim Hatzell sent me this photo:

John Wayne Sporting A Sombrero

   An interesting thing happened when I sent this photograph of John Wayne wearing a sombrero to a well-respected historian friend of mine. My friend said, and I quote, "It looks like a gag photo." As i said, I received this photo from hat expert Jim Hatzell, who wondered why, if the Duke could sport a sombrero, why couldn't Robert Duvall in "Lonesome Dove"? (Duvall flat out refused to wear a sombrero in "Dove") I can't prove it, but I have a hunch this is a test photo, taken by the studio prop department, or the producers, to see how Wayne would look in a sombrero for the movie "Hondo." His outfit, with the exception of the hat, appears to be the same one he wore in "Hondo." And, if that's true, it's probably not too far of a reach to surmise that the studio had the same reaction as Paul Hutton, or, I mean, my well-respected historian friend.

   But my friend put me on to something. The Mexican sombrero gets a bad rap and has for a very long time. It doesn't help that it's an over-the-top hat style (pun intended) and prone to more than a smidgen of clownishness. Exhibit A would be the beach town straw monstrosities every drunkard brings home from Cabo. Also, witness the salt and pepper shakers or yore with the "lazy" Mexican taking a siesta in a sugarloaf:

Food Fight at The BBB Kitchen Corral: "Get Your Ass Up, El Salto!"

   The irony here is the two Earp brothers salt and pepper shakers were gifted to me by the friend who thinks the sombrero on the Duke is "a gag." Which brings us to the several exceptions to the rule, when Hollywood has opted to feature the sugarloaf on the head of the main character in a Western:

Willie Nelson's excellent sombrero in "Barbarossa"

   Now granted,  there are some who believe Willie looks "foolish," but I don't think so. I think it's damn cool. Here's another example:

Robert Mitchum in "The Wonderful Country"

Never mind that various western stars have toyed with classic border head gear:

Buck Jones in "South of the Rio Grande"

And all of the big brim cowboy hats of the 1920s and 1930s were inspired by the Mexican sombrero:

Tim McCoy In A Modified Sombrero

Back to my good friend, the distinguished professor: "I still think it's a gag [The Duke photo] 'cause the sombrero looks so stupid on him they never would have bothered with it. Mitchum and Willie Nelson pulled it off, but its a tough hat unless you're Yul Brynner as Pancho Villa."

   And there is the rub. To me, the sugarloaf sombrero doesn't look "stupid." Granted it has become a caricature when it's actually a thing of functional beauty. And, it looks more authentic to me, than the anglo-conservative-twentieth-century head gear that Robert Duvall insisted on wearing in "Lonesome Dove." I hate to say it, but the disdain for the sombrero is on the border of prejudice.

"I can see by your hat that you are a lazy Mexican."
—Old Redneck Saying


  1. With a brim that large catching the wind, wouldn't it be hard to keep on while riding? And if the brim isn't really stiff, it tends to bounce up and down when the wearer is galloping - maybe it's just not as cool when worn while on a horse.

  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVWTeXzgkJE
    Tex Ritter seem to pull it off!

  3. Interesting discussion. My favorite sombrero moment in a movie was during "The Wild Bunch". After the gang made it south of the border Warren Oates character shucked his slouch hat for a sombrero, which to me symbolized he was going native!!!

  4. It looks like a flying saucer landed on John Wayne's head. Might have been a good choice for Cowboys vs. Aliens. I always disliked the fact that DuVall wore the inauthentic "Gus"(subsequently so named) hat in the otherwise great Western series. surely there were other options besides the sugarloaf or the Gus. Some variaton of Boss of the Plains, e.g. with a uniformly curled brim, or a plainsman wide brimmed open-crowned hat, etc. would have been OK and period correct. Hollywood has always modified period costumes so as not to freak out modern audiences---especially when it came to the handsome star or beautiful starlet. Thuis is still done to some extent nowadays, though hardly as much as in the first half of the 20th Century.

    1. Anonymous6:37 PM

      At least he didn’t wear the standard HOLLYWOOD COWBOY HAT with the “Cattleman Crease” and the “Double Side-Rolled Brim” 🤷‍♂️

  5. I like sombreros. I think they are a good hat for the fierce sun. If I could find an authentic sugarloaf sombrero in Australia, I'd wear it in the summer time, regardless of what anyone thought about it. Beats having parts of your face cut off because of skin cancer!

  6. Anonymous7:26 AM

    The first real cowboys rach cattle workers where mexican some with british ancestry or spaniard but where using charro's sombreros tipe large ample to cover from the sun and daily work in the fiels ! Mexicqns started to use palm sombreros white in color to reflec the sun a convination of michoacans and texas style in the north of sonora's it was a must also in chihuahua .the zatistas latter came to the field but more in the south mx. Texas keept their own style .

  7. Anonymous10:20 AM

    Ha ha! Good laugh. Prejudice against a hat? Fake old redneck saying. Obviously photoshopped pic of JW. Good read, enjoyed it.

  8. Mexicans knew how to be practical. When they settled in for that much-earned siesta in the hot afternoon sun, that hat became a shelter for the entire body. Maybe Texans don't like sombreros because of their fight to liberate Texas from Mexican rule. Memories are long in some places and hats do symbolize a person's culture. Meanwhile, the Nevada buckaroos still sport the hat known at "the Gambler," which has a wide brim that is slightly turned up in the back and a bit dipped downward in front. Very cool looking hat, by the way, and a descendent of the vaquero headgear. In fact, the Spanish method of horsemanship is still honored in California and Nevada.

  9. The Duke wore a sombrero in a few scenes in "The Searchers".

  10. Eyeing the color photo, I thought it looked photo-shopped onto Duke. But seeing the B&W, it's the same hat only a different angle, so I guess someone had him put it on for some reason. Never saw a movie with him wearing such a rig.

  11. Check the movie the searchers

  12. I think Willie and Robert Mitchum look good. Plus the Sombrero is more functional than the cowboy hat or any hat.

  13. I realized that this string is 4 years old.How I ever y'all think that the Sombrero style chapeau is a bit foolish,I can assure you that The style is not dead as I wear a fine sombrero all summer long.While mine is not quite a sugarloaf but It does have a 5 1⁄2 inch brim And it is a bit floppy and in the wind it will press up against the crown and but does keep the sun out of my eyes.

  14. I the Magnificent 7...ELI WAllACH wore it nice.....and a scene in the the bar Horst Bucholz comes back wearing one when he came back from the bandits camp.!!

  15. Looks as if you missed Marlon Brando in Appaloosa. Sadly your professor friend isn't much of a historian when it comes to western hats. Take a look at the XIT Texas cowboys working at the XIT in Montana about 1885/1890.

    1. Yes, agreed, and with all of the current history bashing it appears this realighment of the past will continue indefinitely.

  16. Anonymous6:39 AM

    I thought Willie pulled it off but that's rare. As for prejudice everything is nowadays.


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