Cowboy Hats: What do the X's Mean?
Take a quick look inside your western cowboy hat and I'll bet you see a few x's printed on the sweatband. It's widely accepted that the x's are representative of the quality of the hat, but that may not necessarily be true. It's believed that the more x's, the higher quality and the more beaver fur the cowboy hat contains. What is surprising about this quality rating system is that there is no industry standard. One hat company may boast of a 10X hat quality while a hat with a similar make up has a 3X quality rating from a different company. While the x rating in any cowboy hat can be an indicator of its quality, it should also be taken with a grain of salt. You can help determine for yourself the quality of a hat by inspecting the texture and consistency and by comparing it to other hats of the same type, either wool or fur.
What do the X's Mean?
The x's rating system was originally devised as a pricing system. For each x in a hat the seller would have to get $5, so for a 3X hat the seller would ask $15 retail for it. The system eventually evolved into a quality grading system; typically a higher price would infer a higher quality. There was a correlation between the number of x's in a hat and the amount of beaver fur it contained. Many people believe that a 10X hat has approximately 10% beaver fur and a 100X hat is made from 100% beaver fur but that is not necessarily true. Many hat makers don't disclose specific quantities of fur in their hats in an effort to protect their secret manufacturing formulas.
What Determines Cowboy Hat Quality?
While most western hats look similar they come with a range of price tags; $50, $100, $200 and more. You can't always immediately see the difference in hats but once you get one in your hand you can surely feel the difference. High quality hats are smooth to the touch; they feel softer than velvet. A quality cowboy hat is thin, light weight and holds its shape very well. Ultimately, high quality cowboy hats are made from high quality materials by high quality craftsman.
1.) Texture. A high quality fur felt hat should have a luxuriously smooth feel to it. It's almost indescribable; a unique softness without being overly plush. A good wool hat will be coarser than the fur and probably more rigid.
2.) Consistency. Run your fingers over the body of the hat to make sure the hat has an even feel to it. Lower quality hats can have inconsistencies in texture resulting in bumps or lumps which tend to become more evident over time and especially with exposure to humidity.
Fur Felt vs. Wool Felt
Fur Felt Cowboy Hats are made from a wide variety of animal furs. Beaver and hare (rabbits from Australia and Europe) are the most common furs used, but a hat can include any combination of mink, chinchilla, muskrat and other animal furs. Hatters use different blends of these furs to achieve a spectrum of hat qualities. Fur felt hats tend to be thin, light weight, dense, smooth, pliable, breathable and have a cut brim edge that is either raw or beveled. They are very durable and maintain their shape well. A fur felt hat can easily be reshaped hundreds of times across it's lifespan. Fur felt can be died a variety of colors, but it is not typically bleached to make it lighter. White fur felt hats tend to be very expensive because they are made from actual white fur, they also tend to be off white or ivory in color.
Pros: Luxuriously smooth feel, stays clean, easy to shape, holds shape well, can last a lifetime
Wool Felt Cowboy Hats are made of wool from sheep, alpaca, angora and more. Wool cowboy hats often have bound or welted brims. They tend to have a rigid texture which lends its self well to a very sharp crease. Wool felt hats have a coarse texture that can trap debris. They do not tolerate humidity well and tend to loose their shape. Wool felt hats tolerate reshaping a few times in their lifetime but they tend loose their shapablity over time. They have a strong memory for shape which makes it hard to change their overall shape. Wool can be a good option for a white hat because they tend have more of a true white color and are more cost effective to replace if it gets damaged or excessively soiled.
Pros: Affordable, good option for white hats
Cons: Coarse texture, soils easily, does not tolerate humidity, looses shapeability
More than 100X?
Why do some hats have more than 100X's when 100X is supposed to be top of the line? Hats with more than 100X's tend to be lavishly adorned with things like, rubies, diamonds, sterling silver or 24k gold buckles, suede finishes, sheepskin sweatbands and the like.
A lot of the 4X fur hats on the market today are made from approximately 95% wool and 5% fur. Resistol guarantees that their 4X fur hats are 100% fur. The brands we know and love like Resistol, Stetson and Bailey have long time reputations for making quality hats and they intend to keep it that way. Why risk buying a 4X fur hat that could be 95% wool when you could buy a 4X Resistol hat with confidence that it is 100% fur?
Buy your next cowboy hat according to more than the x quality rating or the price tag alone, buy the one that feels wonderful to the touch; the one with a smooth texture and an even consistency. Stick to the brands you know, like Resistol, Stetson and Bailey. Weigh the pros and cons of each material compared to your intended use. Buy the right western hat the first time and you will never regret it.
Read this article for more information on How to Care for Your Western Hat