When you hear the word sombrero the first thing you might think of is the wide-brimmed pointy hat so commonly painted on dinner plates and other gifts in Mexico. Perhaps even worn by the famous cartoon mouse all those years ago. However the word sombrero actually simply describes hat.
The pointy wide-brimmed varieties are not looked very favorably upon, and for good reason – they are a reminder of the hard times a century ago in Mexico, when men and women were hard at work, backs breaking in the fields. These hats were all worn in a desperate attempt to shield themselves from the harsh sun and conditions as they worked.
However there are some wonderful traditions that live on with the wide-brimmed hat, one of which is the jarabe tapatio, the traditional Mexican hat dance. In this treasured folk tale, a poor peasant is in love with a beautiful girl – he throws down his prized sombrero on the ground in an offering, and she accepts by dancing on the brim of his hat.
These days though, you will mainly find this style of sombrero worn almost exclusively as a costume prop by mariachis. And in the gift shops.
The more modern sombrero however, the cowboy hat, is still a very important part of Mexican life and dress. And many a charro (Mexican cowboy) will not be found without one.
If you look at the exact origins of the word ‘sombrero’ you will see it means shadower as it cast a shadow over the head, face and neck. The wide brimmed hat is important protection from the sun and can be traced back as far as the 13th Century when the Mongolian horsemen used to wear them.
But it was the Spanish who developed the flat-topped version and brought it with them to Mexico. The Mexican charros then developed their own custom shape, and these were eventually adopted by cowboys and may well be the origination of the classic cowboy hat we know and love today.
Years ago choosing the right sombrero was very important as it was not so much a fashion accessory, more a part of survival from the harsh elements. But nevertheless today they are still an important part of dress in Mexico.
The modern country markets offer huge stands with many different versions and ideas. When you put one on your head it’s hard not to look great, no matter what your face shape, and feel transformed into a real charro.