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The Hat Factor: How the Right Headwear Can Boost a Career

Zac Brown, Luke Bryan, Dustin Lynch
Rick Diamond / Marianna Massey / Michael Loccisano, Getty Images

Football and country music — are there two industries more worried about what men are putting on their heads? And football might not even be No. 1.

Imagine you’re a new country star. You’ve got the look, the song and the smile. You’ve worked with image consultants and fashion experts to create something honest, comfortable and memorable. You take professional photos, stamp them on your first single and your first album and send them to the appropriate media. Then you find out the hat you chose is no longer being manufactured.

That nightmare became reality for Dustin Lynch. His straw-colored Resistol hat is a super limited-edition piece of headgear. In fact, he’s the only one with overstock. “After Resistol saw me wearing this hat in the ‘Cowboys and Angels’ video,” the singer told Taste of Country last spring, “they called me and were like ‘Well, we’ve got bad news.’”

It’s a 2011 hat, but the company found six in a warehouse in Mexico and sent them to Lynch in Nashville. A summer on the road will take a toll on a hat. “They start smelling and I can’t stand it,” Lynch says, indicating that the one on his head would soon be turned into a candy dish, flower pot or whatever it is singers do with old hats. He’ll kick that can down the road for a few more years, but eventually, he’ll need to make a change.

And that’s not easy to do. Chris Young dropped his signature hat in early 2011, and fans erupted with cheers and jeers. Young was taken aback by the reaction (he was also surprised at the interest generated by his near death). Many were just surprised to learn he had hair (a great head of hair, actually), while others were saddened to lose another “hat act.” They’re a dying breed. Right now there are only five true “hat acts” with songs inside the country Top 50. Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Jason Aldean, Justin Moore and George Strait keep the tradition alive, with Paisley, Moore and Strait the most traditional of the bunch.

Alternatives include the beanie (Zac Brown, Eric Church for a short time in 2012), baseball cap (Luke Bryan) and trucker hat. McGraw has tried them all – and then some. In fact, no one has kept fans guessing more than the ‘Southern Girl’ singer. He even toyed with something resembling a Kangol in 2004 … and it worked!

Kip Moore is famous for his red trucker cap. Unlike Lynch, that decision came about naturally, and because fans started imitating him, he’s stuck with it. His choice of headwear didn’t make everyone at his record label happy, however.

“I can say this,” he told ToC. ”People were against my attire that I wear now early on. And I basically said, ‘I’m going to be me at all times. I’m not gonna have to try to put on a front,’ and I’ve always been that way. I live my life the way I live it and write the songs I wanna write. I’m never gonna have a put on for anybody.”

For the record, Moore has just one red McKevlin’s Surf Shop trucker hat, but the company sells them online.

Beards can be as intentional as headwear and clothing. Craig Morgan admits his new facial hair was calculated. “It was time for a change … in my career, you know,” he said in mid-2013. “I think sometimes if you do it right it can be a great thing and it seems to be working right now. New music, a new look, everything.”

For a singer as traditional as Morgan, he’s gone through a surprising number of image transitions. For his 2008 ‘That’s Why’ album, he even went blond. It worked to the tune of two Top 10 hits.

McGraw also moves his facial hair around like he’s Mr. Potato Head (currently, he’s clean-shaven). His wardrobe is endless, yet rarely does one look at this superstar and cringe. It’s difficult to remember a man as capable in as many different rooms as he is. From Manhattan to Mississippi, McGraw always fits in. It’s remarkable.

Outside of Lynch, you’ll struggle to find a country newcomer dedicated to a stiff-brimmed Resistol or Stetson, and even veterans are ditching them. Blake Shelton is a former hat addict who has had the most dramatic transformation since Garth Brooks put on eye liner and started calling himself Chris. As with Young, Shelton’s change reflected the times. Not coincidentally, both men began enjoying the most commercially successful periods of their careers soon after. So, does this mean the cowboy hat is an endangered species?

It’s tempting to overreact, but … Ahhh! What the heck.

The cowboy hat is going the way of rhinestones and belt buckles the size of Wyoming. Pick any number of reasons for this transition: the expansion of country music, pop, hip-hop and rock influences, how impractical it is to wear a cowboy hat 24/7, the list goes on.

The fact is, country singers have stopped acting like cowboys. There are no more songs about life on the open range or the dusty trails of Oklahoma. That music — while wonderful — is dated, and the look will soon be, too. New singers are more likely to grow up in suburbia than they are on a ranch raising cattle.

This is why Ashton Kutcher’s professed love for country music felt so insincere. If it were true, he wouldn’t have dressed like such a goober at the 2012 ACM Awards. When he first started, Lynch also looked a bit gooberesque, but time, his deep voice and those sterling blue eyes have made his hat more palatable. Still — and for some this will be difficult to accept — when George Strait retires in 2014, there will be no one to replace him as the king of beaver fur and felt.

Next: See Country Stars Without Their Famous Hats

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