Probably the most often asked question when it comes to the cowboy hat is “what do the X’s mean?”. It’s a great question. The vast majority of cowboy hats, both felt and straw hats, have what’s called an “X Rating”, and it’s been the standard method for decades to indicate the quality of the hat. But exactly what is the deal with these X ratings and how do these ratings relate to hat quality? It’s one of the most common questions we get at Green Mountain.
Many years ago, hat makers decided to create a standard that allowed the customer to gauge the quality of a hat. The fundamental difference between hats of various qualities is the amount of beaver fur in the fur-felt. Beaver fur was, and still is, the gold standard when it comes to fur-felt. Beaver fur’s durability and its incredible water-repelling qualities are what cowboys needed in their hat. The water beads and rolls off quicker than a freshly waxed car! And that’s pretty handy when you’re on the back of a horse in a torrential downpour and 80 miles from the nearest town.
It was a beautifully simple rating scale. 10X meant that the hat was made from 100% beaver fur – the best you can get. Moving down the scale, 8X was 80% beaver fur, 5X was 50%, 4X was 40%... etc. Even better, back in the day, you could buy the 10X pure beaver hat for about $100 (in 1875 dollars), the 6X for about $60, and the 3X for about $30. Whoa, cowboy - the magic word here is could. Yeah, prices are just a bit higher here in the 21st century. And, when it comes to the X-rating scale, things are quite a bit more confusing too.
Unfortunately for us lovers of the pure and simple, the X-scale was high-jacked by the folks in the marketing department and has become a bit tainted, to lay it out honestly. It’s a damn shame too, that such a simple and honest system, which was so effective in giving the customer insight into the quality of the fur-felt, has become yet another marketing tool. Giving the marketing department the X-scale is like giving a Politician the check book – you’ll get nothing but abuse.
But this is not to say the system is outright useless, depending on the manufacturer. A 10X will always be cheaper and lower quality than an 5X – but there is little consistency on what this scale specifically means manufacturer to manufacturer, and this confusion works to the manufacturer’s benefit and works against the customer’s confidence as he shops for his next hat. Unless there’s a lot of beaver fur in the fur-felt, they’d just rather not talk about specifics.
Now that I’ve completely disappointed you, let me tell you that all is not lost. A 100% pure beaver hat today are going to land you in the territory of $2000-5,000, perhaps even more (remember, that 10X all-beaver hat for $100? That was a long time ago). If you spend that kind of coin on a cowboy hat, you’re going to have a family heirloom - seriously. It’s going to be a very amazing and absolutely stunning cowboy hat. 100% beaver hats are truly incredible hats. 50% beaver is going to be around $1000 and up. It will also be an amazing and wonderful hat.
Now these products may be rated 100X or rated way past 1000X - I guess because 2000X pure beaver will always appear to “look” better than 100X pure beaver, even though they’re both 100% beaver. You might see a hat listed as “100X… 100% pure fur-felt”, which is true - you can be confident that the hat is 100% fur-felt. But 100% fur-felt is not the same as 100% beaver fur-felt. The point is this: What used to be an adhered to standard regarding the identification of quality of hat material, is today a rather meaningless marketing tool. But there’s no magic here in the hat-making world - all the hat brands are working within the same margins and production expenses, so going by price is actually a pretty good gauge of what you’re looking at when you pick up a cowboy hat.
Starting on the inexpensive side of the spectrum, a $20 county fair felt hat will be made from 100% synthetic felt. If it rains hard on you at the fair after you buy it, sorry - you probably just lost $20. Under $75 - $100, a hat will likely have little to no fur in the material blend at 5% fur or less. A hat like this will handle a bit of moisture but if caught in a downpour, it can be destroyed if it gets saturated. You’ll be able to shape the brim for a couple years but eventually you’ll be spraying your way through bottles of hat stiffener or spray starch to get the shape to hold. $100 cowboy hats are not in the heirloom category, but they are a great place to start if you’re wondering if a cowboy hat will become a regular part of your look. At Green Mountain, we sell tons of hats in the $60-$110 range to folks that want to check out how it feels to have a cowboy hat on top of your head and whether it’s something that will stick with you.
Getting into the 4-6X range will cost you around $135-250 and you’re probably looking at 10-15% beaver. At this price range, you’re starting to look at a good quality hat here. You’ll be able to easily shape the brim to your liking (not the crown) and it will tolerate snow and rain episodes much better than the $89 impulse buy. Throwing a couple Benjamin’s at a hat means you’re serious about your cowboy hats. It’s a great price range for the cowboy hat enthusiast who wishes to start building his or her collection. Personally, some of my favorite hats are in this price range. Nothing to be ashamed of here at all. A 6X hat will maintain is shape, is not too bothered by a non-soaking rain or snowfall, will keep your head dry and maintain its shape well.
The next step up is going to be what Stetson calls a 10X hat, which will contain about 30% fur in the blend. At a price point of $400 plus, this is a seriously nice quality hat. Beautifully soft to the touch, a dream to shape and truly resistant to water and snow regardless of the quantity, this hat will truly protect you from the elements. You will wear this hat for a lifetime if you take care of it and probably hand it down to your children.
As you move into the 40% plus fur blends, you will start to see more beaver mixed into the blends. Beaver is the Holy Grail of hat fur; crazy resistance to water, you can watch the water bead up and roll off your hat just like a freshly waxed car. Soft, shapable and durable, this is entering into heirloom territory. You’ll be in the neighborhood of $650-plus for a hat of this quality. All you have to do is stroke your fingers across the hat to feel the quality difference in a hat of this caliber.
A 50% fur blend move you ahead to the next grade, with a bit more beaver in the mix and will land you into the $900 to $1000 range. Hats of this quality are usually looked upon as dress hats, but they certainly don’t have to be. Many of these high-entry hats will come fashioned with gold buckle sets, sometimes with gemstones in the mix as well. If you wish to have a hat of this quality as your work hat (on a ranch for instance), you’ll want to go to a customer hat maker so you don’t have to get all the bling-out that you don’t really want to pay for.
100% beaver hats are difficult to find under $2000 at the time of this writing. At this point, you’re getting the best because you can afford it and you appreciate it. And you will certainly appreciate it. The high-caliber hats often will come with hard shell travel cases and, in the case of Stetson’s top of the line Diamante ($5,500 at the time of this writing), a premium leather Stetson case to store your hat it, a 14k gold buckle set with 26 genuine diamonds adorning it. There is nothing else on the market that can match the feeling of wearing a 100% beaver hat on your head – some I someday hope to experience myself. There’s always hope, right?
The quality of the hat you’re looking for should always be in line with how you plan to use the hat. A festival hat is going to be different than your Sunday hat. If using your hat while working the fields on the ranch, quality will matter – you don’t want to be trying to find a new hat halfway through winter. Most of the hats we sell at Green Mountain range from first time hat wearers looking for a hat that’s $100 or less, or someone who wears hats every day and is looking to add to their collection for $250-300. $300 and under is the core of the market, at least here in the Midwest, which I am sure is different than in the Southwest.
So, don’t pay too much attention to the X’s. Every manufacturer uses their own scale and few of them will tell you just what their scale means. But fear not! You now have a better understanding of how to gauge the quality of that cowboy hat you’re considering for purchase. The vast majority of hats sold today are at the low-end of the quality scale, but the folks that really like their cowboy hats will not flinch to lay down $250-400 for a great quality, dependable hat that will do the job day in a day out. Keep the my head warm and dry and keep me looking good no matter where the trail takes them.
Good luck and Happy Trails!