logo



Hats reign at the rodeo

Xavier Smith • Updated Jun 20, 2017 at 8:00 AM

As thousands of visitors make their way through the Wilson County James E. Ward Ag Center this week for the National Junior High Finals Rodeo, there’s one thing visible in every direction – a cowboy hat. 

“The hat is the most recognized piece of apparel in the world. You can go to any country in the world and they recognize the cowboy hat. But, they are not just for fashion. They are for protection from the elements,” said Rick Phemister, owner of Heads or Tails Hats, based in Haskell, Texas.

Phemister started Heads or Tails Hats in 1980 as a full service western store before closing in 2003 and focusing on trade shows starting in 2006. He said he switched the focus solely to hats due the popularity of the apparel. 

Phemister said cowboy hats were important to rodeo competitors and anyone involved in agriculture because they maintain heat in winter, while protecting people from the summer’s harsh elements. 

“We learned that caps will not protect you from the sun. All it will do is keep the sun out of your eyes,” Phemister said. 

Heads or Tails Hats specializes in custom hats made from flat brimmed and rounded hats, allowing options for customers. The group steams the hat to soften the material for shaping to the customer’s desired shape.

“That’s been our thing – making you a one of a kind custom hat,” Phemister said. “We’re all individuals, so everybody thinks they have to have something different. Straw hats in the last five years have just exploded with all kinds of different patterns, colors and designs.”

Phemister said some styles have made a return from previous generations, but there are still differences among age groups. 

“The solid black from the 70s and 80s has come back in style because the kids thinks it’s retro because it was popular before they were born. They go all the way from black to rainbow and anything in between,” he said. “These kids are wearing different shapes than the 60-70 year old men. Even in their age groups, there are five or six different styles. They don’t all wear the same thing.”

Phemister said the group made an appearance at a Houston-area rodeo and sold about 1,500 hats. He said he expects to sell close to 1,000 during this week’s rodeo. 

“With the area and country that some of these people are from, they don’t have western stores. They don’t have places they can buy hats. So when they come to events like this, they can buy shirts, jeans, saddle – whatever they need. Some don’t have source for that where they live. The trade show is just as important as the competition for some of these folks,” Phemister said.

Recommended for You