OLD-FASHIONED ART: Allan King working and shaping a hat with a
OLD-FASHIONED ART: Allan King working and shaping a hat with a "steamer”. Vanessa Jarrett

The dark art of old-fashioned shaping cowboy hats

COWBOY hats have been around in history since the 13th Century and the art of shaping them is a dying skill.

One of the few people left in the world trained in hat shaping is Allan King of western wear business Outback Traders.

Allan uses a 'steamer' to shape the hats to suit and fit customer's head, a technique not seen often these days.

"I have had a lot of video and photos taken (at his stall)," Allan said.

The hat is held over the steamer and Allan uses a foot pedal to operate it.

"It's very hot steam, it's much hotter than a kettle, it's really a boiler," he said.

Allan learnt the art of shaping hats overseas and has been finessing it ever since.

For 20 years he has been continually improving his skills, even studying in America.

"It just takes practice," he said.

"The last two years I have really learnt a lot about hat manufacturing."

Allan said he hoped more people were trained in it.

"Proper hat making is a bit of a dark art. In the fact there is only six firm body manufacturers in the world now, compared to hundreds after World War II," he said.


Allan King with the American Hat Company Hat at his Beef Australia stall.
Allan King with an American Hat Company hat at his Beef Australia stall. Vanessa Jarrett

Allan imports cowboy style hats from the American Hat Company which are able to be shaped a moulded.

Traditionally, the tall crown of cowboy hats provide insulation and the wide brim provides shade.

"We have open crown hats, so the customer can have any shape they want in the hat rather than the norm which is hats moulded and pressed," Allan said.

He also sells the iconic Australian brand, Statesman.

"The pre-shaped hats are a cheaper price point," Allan said.

"They are a good hat and they are ready to go."

The American hats are "completely different quality".

"The moulded ones start at $500 and go up to $2000 where as the others start at $155," Allan said.

"There is no comparison to the American and the Australian hat; it's like trying to compare a Rolls Royce to a Holden.

"Both are good, both have a purpose."

Allan said the American hats were more of a luxurious hat.

"The big thing with this is you are educating people as you go," he said.

"They are a high end hat and that is not part of our culture.

"They are a higher grade firm body that are worked a lot more, a much more involved process."

Starting up his own business and hat shaping was something Allan said he "just fell into".

"I grew up in Perth, but every school holidays we went on the farms," he said.

"I couldn't wait to get out of the city.

"Then I went to the Northern Territory at a young age and it was pretty wild and open back then, we were still hunting buffalo just out of town."

During that time, Allan bought a four-wheel drive and trailer and starting selling western wear from it.

It wasn't long before that turned into a semi-trailer.

"It was just the way it worked out," he said.

"I never imagined I would be a retailer."

Allan's success is not just in Australia, he also sells hats and footwear from the home of American country in Texas.

This is the fifth time Allan has had a stall at Beef Australia.

Over the years, Allan has seen the event grow to be "bigger and more professional".

"I look forward to coming to it," Allan said.

"I think it is a great event."