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Cultural symbol of native Mexican people

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When you hear of the Mexican hat, you probably think of those telenovelas where characters often wear those broad-brimmed high-crowned hats made from felt or straw. Traditionally known as a sombrero, the Mexican hat is undoubtedly one of the most iconic representations of Mexican culture.

While we are familiar with this hat, there are not many who know its origin and primary uses. If you are interested to know them, read this article.

What is the Mexican hat?

What is the Mexican hat?
Photo credit: 123RF

The Mexican hat, also known as sombrero, is a broad-brimmed high-crowned hat made of felt or straw, which is mostly worn in Mexico and the southwestern part of the United States of America. Sombrero derived its name from the Spanish word sombra, which means “shade”.

There are different types of Mexican hats. The traditional Mexican hat is what most are familiar with and it is lightweight and made of straw. Typically, this Mexican hat is the largest and it is often only worn by Mariachi brands or during special celebrations.

There are also the quinciano Mexican hats which are also made with straw or other cheap materials. The only difference is they have smaller brims, which makes them perfect for outdoor work.

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Diechinueve Mexican hat is generally regarded as more durable than the traditional and quinciano Mexican hats. It also comes with different unique designs and woven patterns. You can also customise any design that best suits you with this type of hat.

Then, there is the veintisiete Mexican hat which is the most elevated and complex type of sombrero. It is made with a thickly woven material that allows you to fold the hat and fit it into your pocket. The veintisiete sombrero is more complicated than the others, as it can take a month to be created.

Finally, there is the full sombrero, which is larger and heavier and usually created from single-coloured felt with small and unobtrusive decorations.

History of Mexican hat

History of Mexican hat

Tracing the exact origin of the Mexican hat is difficult. However, many sources report that the Mexican hat was introduced as far back as the 15th century by the Mestizo cowboys in Central Mexico. These workers sought to protect their eyes and face from the sun while they worked in the hot climate. Then, gentlemen often wore tan, white or grey felt sombreros, while peasants wore straw.

Other sources claim that the Mexican hat originated even further back in the 13th century from Mongolian cowboys and horseback riders who wore them as a shade from the hot climate.

The Philippines also claim history with Mexican hat which came there through Mexican influence by the Manila Galleon Trade between Manila (now the Philippines) and Acapulco, New Spain (now Mexico) from 1565 to 1815. Zenu Indian tribes of Colombia have their version of the sombrero which is made of softer materials which can be folded and put away without fear of losing its shape.

Either way, the hat is a common sight in Mexico and other North American countries and it is worn by men, women and children. In the United States, the Mexican hat was adopted by ranchers and frontiersmen and modified into what we now know as a cowboy hat.

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Uses of Mexican hat

Uses of Mexican hat

The Mexican hat was originally designed to protect the wearer from the sun. This is primarily why the traditional hat is oversized in its brim, wide enough to cast a shadow over the head, neck and shoulders of the person who wears it and a strap with which the hat is held in place.

In addition, the Mexican hat was used to reflect the social and economic status of a wearer. As previously stated, peasants wear hats made from straws while the wealthy class wear hats made from felt. The cheaper hats have narrower brims and are created from straw or similar lightweight material to make working under the sun easier. On the other hand, the expensive ones are often heavier, with a wider brim that better protects against the sun and even enables the wearer to protect their clothes against rain. However, both can be made in many different colours, designs and patterns, and embroidered with golden fibres and other types of decorations.

Finally, the Mexican hat is often regarded as the cultural symbol of the Mexican people. The mariachi, traditional folk musicians, often wear this hat with outfits that have embroidery, beading and gold threads. This hat is also part of the sombrero dance, jarabe tapatio, with a folk song that tells about a love story of a poor charro peasant who attempts to woo a girl he loves. In his attempt, he tosses his sombrero on the ground, the most valuable possession that he has as a gift to show his seriousness. When the girl accepts his advances, she starts dancing on the brim of the sombrero.

The Mexican hat is arguably the most recognisable clothing accessory in Mexico, Central and South America. It symbolises the rich history, heritage and cultural heritage of the native Mexican people. This explains why it is celebrated in festivals, name-days, traditional music pieces and dances across Mexico and beyond.

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