History of Mexican Sombreros
To many, the sombrero is an item that is uniquely Mexican, with its brightly colored design and wide brim. But the sombrero has a long, rich and somewhat disputed history that spans several countries and a few continents. In fact, the sombrero has made it as far as the Philippines, where all hats, not just the traditional sombrero, are referred to as sombrero. The influence of the sombrero has even been brought to United States
, as the inspiration for the American cowboy hat.
Origin and Meaning of Word
The word "sombrero" is most likely derived from the Spanish word "sombra," meaning shade or to throw a shadow. A literal English translation would be shade maker. Spanish speakers outside of Mexico call the sombrero a "Sombrero Mexicano," or literally "a Mexican hat."
The Sombrero's Design
The design of the sombrero is actually very practical, as its wide brim shades the wearer's head, shoulders, arms, upper back and chest. Traditional sombreros are usually woven out of straw in bright, distinctive colors with a chin strap so that the hat stays put and doesn't shift or blow away in a strong wind. However, modern sombreros can be made out of almost any fabric or material, and many have elaborate embroidery and embellishments. The largest sombreros are called "sombreros galoneados," which look similar to 10-gallon cowboy hats.
History of the Sombrero
The originators of the sombrero are thought to be the mestizo workers, who were Latin people of mixed European and American Indian heritage, who worked in Mexico and the Southern United States. No one is sure who developed the concept, but working outside in the hot sun most likely led to the idea of weaving a straw or grass hat for protection. However, another school of thought is that that the sombrero came from Guadalajara and that horseback riders there developed the hat as part of their uniform as a symbol of strength and power. There also are other historians who believe that the hat came from Spain and was used by those of Spanish descent in Mexico.
American Cowboy Hat
Most historians agree that it was most likely the sombrero that inspired American cowboy hats, as many Texas cowboys began wearing the utilitarian hat to stay cool while working in the hot sun. While the shape has been changed, the brim has been reduced and the top isn't quite as high, there is no mistaking the usefulness of the design to those who toil in the sun.
In Modern Times
The sombrero has become a traditional Mexican symbol, worn by mariachi musicians and folk dancers. The practicality of the hat is somewhat forgotten, as they are often seen as part of a costume. It is also very common to see sombreros, along with woven blankets, at shops catering to tourists throughout Mexico.
Amy Wolffing has been writing professionally for over 25 years, writing everything from magazine features and articles to biographies and oral histories. She began as an entertainment reporter focusing on music, before branching out into other areas.
Amy graduated from Temple University with a BA in Political Science and has worked for 15 years in the area of human resources training and development.