Sombreros de Castor–Shopping for Beaver Cowboy Hats in Oaxaca

We love our cowboy hats in New Mexico. In Taos and Santa Fe, there are small custom hat makers who shape and form these hats made from beaver and rabbit fur. They cost from four hundred to eight hundred dollars, sometimes more, much more, depending on the fiber and ornateness. You have heard of Stetson, Resistol, Burns and Brooks. They can reach the stratosphere in pricing. Sometimes you can find them used, though the savings isn’t much. We think of Texas as the cowboy hat center of the world. Not so. Pennsylvania, Arizona, Utah figure prominently into the origins of hat making, even going back as far as 1865.

I use the term cowboy loosely. Of course these hats are for cowgirls, too. How the west was won depended on those riding the range, bringing those cows to market in Denver and Albuquerque. We know that many cowboys, more than we can imagine, were Blacks who went west after the Civil War. Disenfranchised Confederate soldiers went, too. Annie Oakley was not a myth; she was a real cowgirl. Museums are devoted to the women who rode the range. Do you know the Cowgirl Cafe in Santa Fe? A favorite. My memories of Dale Evans riding alongside Roy Rogers in the Rose Parade elevated women to a new category of equality. Dang, she even kept her own name.

In Santa Fe, Rio Bravo Trading Company on Guadalupe Street across from the RailRunner train depot, sells well-worn cowboy hats to stylists dressing western film actors. Buy one of mine, says owner Randy Rodriguez. You won’t look like a Dude. (That’s an insult, in case you didn’t get that.) In Taos, Six Hand Hats has a one-year wait to take delivery of a seven hundred dollar plus beaver hat. You pick the crown shape and height, brim size and color. For extra flair, buy a turquoise stone cut and polished by Mikel to put on the band. After it’s made, you can come in for a fitting to make sure it is exactly right. Very personal service.

So you can imagine how ecstatic I was to have discovered Alberly hats made in Ocotlan de Morelos, Oaxaca, Mexico, where beaver hats cost a fraction of what they do in the USA. (What you save would buy your plane ticket.) Yes, there are cowboys here, too. Mexico has a long tradition of cowboys. Vaqueros riding caballos, complete with spurs on their boots riding tall on ornate tooled leather saddles, cinched with silver-tipped tooled leather belts, and sporting wide-brimmed cowboy hats to protect face and neck from the brutal sun. Can’t you just see them wrangling dogies from the thickets and moving herds into corrals where they wait to go to market? One can still buy tanned hides here, too. Perfect for draping over furniture or using as a floor rug. Much more economical than Overland Sheepskin Company.

Today is Eric’s birthday. Elsa will celebrate hers in six days. Let’s go to Ocotlan, I say. I’ll get you hats. They were in. Yesterday, we set out from Teotitlan in mid-morning and arrived an hour-and-a-half later, passing through Oaxaca city to get to the Ocotlan valley from the Tlacolula valley. Patience is a virtue here, and thankfully lunchtime starts around two o’clock. We had plenty of time to go shopping and then eat in San Martin Tilcajete at Almu on the way back.

Even five-year-old Santiago, Elsa and Eric’s son, was entertained during our shopping adventure. There were zillions of hat forms stacked in the back room. Out front was a mind-boggling display of hats in different shapes, colors, sizes and material, all for sale: straw, wool felt, rabbit and beaver (the ultimate fabric). When I asked, they answered that the hat forms are imported from Ukraine and Portugal. The source is the same for the hats made in the USA. The difference is in who makes the hat and how it’s made. The quality was the same to me!

Alberly, Oaxaca, Mexico, since 1940, is named for owners Alberto and Lily. You can find them at the northeast corner of the Ocotlan zocalo. They also have a shop in Oaxaca city on Armenta y Lopez, though the prices are higher. Address: Zaragoza #07, Ocotlan de Morelos, Oaxaca. Tel: 951-569-1046. Facebook: Alberly Sombreros. Instagram: Alberlysombreros

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