All Hat and No Cattle

In the old days, when the economy of Texas was largely based on ranching and oil, saying that a man was “all hat and no cattle” was an insult. It meant that whatever persona he projected was a false pretense, an image that tried to fake its money and status, and thus, who he really was. To be “all hat” meant this person went out and bought the biggest cowboy hat he could find and wore it to try to look (what he thought) was the part of an old-time “real” Texan. Initially this terminology applied just to social climbers and “new money” oil men ( v.s. “old money” ranchers), but later, to anyone who was perceived as fake : politicians, Yankees recently moved here, con men, hustlers, card sharks, and bounders. The “no cattle” part meant, originally, that you (and/or your family) had no ranch – no cattle, no land, no actual substantial holdings of capitol (land, livestock, buildings), and by implication, no family heritage going back generations, and no class. It meant you were a “johhny come lately” and a bounder. This expression was a deep insult if applied to you. Ironically, politicians just LOVE to put on cowboy hats whenever they come to Texas, no matter how ridiculous it makes them look. The natives would rather they didn’t. It doesn’t give them “cred”.

Above: Various American politicians wearing cowboy hats. Some look worse than others. Below, two actual Texans, both famous actors, also wearing cowboy hats:

There is a new kind of “all hat no cattle” springing up on the Texas prairies today…..the mini McMansion. “Mini” because in spite of its tall imposing entrance and overall grande pompous facade, it is actually not that big of a house, comparatively speaking. “McMansion”, because like the restaurant chain McDonald’s, these homes are everywhere, plentiful and cheap (thus defying the notion, in America at least, of a “mansion” as something expensive, rare, genteel, and notable.) Newcomers (“no cattle”) are lured into buying these homes by the notion of upper middle-class gentility that rows upon rows of these homes would seem to suggest to those who don’t know any better. Full of what is called “lipstick” (“all hat”) in the housing trade (granite counter tops, two story entrance halls, master bathrooms with spa tubs), in actuality these homes are often hastily built of shoddy materials from China (drywall that crumbles due to being made of chalk, fake ”wood” laminate floors that leach toxic levels of formaldehyde, etc). Other than the master bedroom and bath, the rooms are tiny: children’s rooms that are 8 x 10 feet, dining rooms, if this house has one at all, that are the same small size. No separate living and den, only one large living area. No eat in kitchen. Often, the front lawns are only 8x10 ft as well, mere vestiges of the idea of a lawn. I’m not against sustainable, smaller homes- in fact, I am strongly for them. Anything that re-purposes old buildings, is environmentally-friendly, lets us stop wasting water on keeping a grass lawn green , mixed-use urban development – that’s what I am for. I just think the pretentiousness of these homes is hysterical. But by all means, newcomers, keep moving into them. Leave the better built older homes in stately neighborhoods for those who know.

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