Kaci Riggs
Kaci Riggs and her Quarter Horse, Jackson, make a clean catch for heeler Cash Myers.

By Christy Nielson     Photography by James Bruno

You could call Kaci Riggs the mad hatter of the Charlie 1 Horse hat company.  This self-proclaimed hat girl is crazy about hats, though that was not always the case.  “I didn’t used to wear hats; now I wear them every single day,” laughs Riggs, who is the company’s director of product development. “It’s fun!  It changes your whole character.  When you put on a hat, you’re a new person.  You go from grit to glam.”

Riggs says these days you will find her in a hat, no matter the occasion.  “Even when I’m going to a formal, I’ll wear a nice black hat.  I don’t even know how to fix my hair anymore!”  jokes the charismatic cowgirl from Forney,  Texas.

Talk Derby to Me, from Charlie 1 Horse
Tex Appeal, Charlie 1 Horse
Hard to Handle, Charlie 1 Horse

Charlie 1 Horse is the fun, fashion-forward and sometimes flamboyant brand that is manufactured in the same Garland, Texas factory as iconic cowboy hat brands Stetson, Resistol and Wrangler.  The red-hot company—with its signature, C-shaped horseshoe firebrand—is all about confidence and personality.  “There are no rules with Charlie,” explains Riggs. “It really walks the line of fashion and tacky but then also function.”

The Charlie 1 Horse brand is about 35 years old and includes felt and straw cowboy hats, floppy hats, fedoras, top hats, sombreros and even crushable beach shade hats.  Many are made out of bold colors or tricked out in bright, funky fabrics. Others are adorned with braided cords, unique leathers, vibrant feathers, pretty silver Conchos, fancy trim and what Riggs calls “road kill” – animal bones, exotic skins and snake rattlers.  “It’s unexpected, and that’s what is fun about Charlie,” Riggs exclaims.

The brand is beloved and worn by the likes of superstar Kid Rock, country legend Waylon Jennings and the king of NASCAR Richard Petty (who has his own collection of distinctive hats with the company, one of which is called “Petty Blue”).  But Riggs insists you don’t need to be famous to rock the Charlie 1 Horse look.

“My biggest pet peeve is when people tell me they don’t look good in hats,” she confesses.  “It’s like me saying I don’t look good in clothes!  When you get comfortable with what you’re wearing, I’ll give you a hat that tops it off.” Riggs admits that it can take a lot of confidence to wear a Charlie 1 Horse hat. “But if you just push through it, you’ll give other women that same confidence,” she advises.  “Do it.  Rock it.  Own it.”

Riggs says she exemplifies the Charlie 1 Horse customer. “She’s really all over the place, but definitely a fashion twist, and not always Western,” Riggs explains.  She adds that Charlie 1 Horse customers are encouraged to customize their hat by shaping it the way they like or adding feathers, pins or stretchable bands to change up the look.

Kaci Riggs wearing “Calamity,” one of her hat designs from the Back at the Ranch Collection for Charlie 1 Horse.

Charlie 1 Horse launches a new line twice a year.  “The hardest part of my job is naming the hats,” Riggs says of the line that includes creative monikers like “Tex Appeal,” “Tijuana Dance,” “Talk Derby to Me” and “Fringe Benefit,” just to name a few.  The 2016 collection will be out in January and includes hats that are Aztec-inspired and decorated with distressed and braided leathers, beads, fringe, feathers and antique Conchos.

As for where she gets her ideas for the Charlie 1 Horse creations, Riggs says she never knows where inspiration will strike, but it’s likely to come from people and experiences.  “It’s a lot of my trips and adventures to places,” explains Riggs, who spends her free time riding horses, roping, hunting, sport shooting and spending time with friends and family.  “Definitely my inspiration comes from nature, but also from being around the rodeo lifestyle. Anything having to do with a horse, I can pick it apart for a hat!”

Riggs says she is always thinking about how she would merchandise the Charlie 1 Horse hats with outfits.  “When I walk into a store and see a hat on a hook, it’s just a hat on a hook,” says Riggs.  “But if I see this ensemble–a dress styled with a hat–I want the whole thing.  So if I see it styled together, I’ll buy it.  And I feel like I am the Charlie customer.  I’m her, so I get it.”

Charlie 1 Horse hats, which retail for $35-$600, are available at many Western retailers or can be purchased online at www.charlie1horsehats.com.