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The CanadianCowboy.com
Hat Guide

The  Big X
Size and Fitting Protecting and Cleaning
Storage Wet Hats Wearing and Handling Cowboy Hat Etiquette
Videos - Cowboy Hat Selection & Care      

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Due to the popularity of this page I thought try and find out, what y'all do with your hats...normally my polls are only on my home page but in this case it seemed appropriate to place it here as well.  Enjoy....

The Western cowboy hat is recognized around the world as part of "cowboy" lore, it is the defining piece of equipment in Western wear.  In the early days, it was valued for being functional with the wide brim protecting working cowboys from the sun and rain.  It could be used to signal others, fan a campfire, swat a horse or pull water out of a stream.  Today, while still very functional, most wear them for aesthetic value as a part of western style.  

There are many different styles from many manufacturers, the most famous of which is the Stetson.  John Batterson Stetson was a New Jersey man, born into a hat making family but ultimately moved to the west.  He developed a reputation for durable, quality hats with the manufacturing of the Ten-Gallon hat in 1865.  Now there are many quality manufacturers of hats including Resistol, Bailey and others.

The Big 'X'                   Return to top of page

Hats are most commonly made of felt (Beaver and/or Rabbit fur), Straw or Wool.   Prices can range anywhere from  $20 to $4000.  For the most common type, the felt hat, cost is often determined by the content of Beaver fur vs. the rabbit fur in the hat, this is denoted by the X marking usually seen on the inside of the crown.  

The higher the X, the more expensive the hat tends to be but it is also more durable with a softer smoother feel.  In the old days, 5X and perhaps 7X would be the highest quality they could have found.  20X used to mean 100% Beaver however over time, different manufacturers have created different scales thus making most scales impossible to accurately compare.  What is a 20X for one hat maker, might be considered a 100X by another so buyer beware as it can be an arbitrary scale.

Straw hats also may have an X on the inside, and theoretically indicates the quality of the straw and how tight the weave is.  The better the straw and tighter the weave, the lighter the hat.  Straws do not get as expensive as the felts but you can find some straw hats up to a few hundred dollars for the best quality.

Example of Fur Content of Felt Hats for a manufacturer 
where 100X means 100% Beaver content.   Remember that
 this scale will vary from company to company.

Marking on Hat Percentage Beaver Fur Percentage Rabbit Fur
4X 15% 85%
5X 25% 75%
6X 30% 70%
7X 40% 60%
10X 50% 50%
15X 60% 40%
20X 75% 25%
30X 85% 15%
100X 100% 0%

You can also have quality hats handmade.  This may be for sizing reasons or if you want a unique style created to suit your individual tastes.  

Longevity                Return to top of page

A good quality felt hat will last anywhere from 20 years to a lifetime because of the durability of beaver fur.  One reason for purchasing a high end hat is for the fact that it should last such a long time, indeed it's a lifelong investment in the higher price ranges!  It is normal for a hat to fade with time and to lose fur, especially if it is exposed to the elements regularly.

Straw hats tend to have much shorter lifespans.  They will usually last two or three seasons of wear, my favourite straw is still holding together after 2 years but it is showing signs of degradation due to dirt, sweat, the odd broken straw strand and general wear and tear.  But again, it depends on the care of the hat. 

Size and Fitting                Return to top of page

A size 7 hat is basically a hat that will fit a head with the circumference of 7 x 3.145  (22").  A head that is 231/3 " in circumference is 231/3" divided by 3.145 which gives 7.4.  closest hat size to this is 7 3/8 (7.37).  In my own experience, different hat makes and models may size slightly differently.  I usually wear a 71/4 but I have had 73/8 fit me on occasion.

You will see the hat size charts generally conform to the above calculation although they may have slightly different sizes listed.  I speculate it may just be differences in how they fit the hats.  Custom hat makers can size a hat exactly to fit the client.

Some other things to consider:  Color.  Typical colors for felt cowboy hats are shades of white, black, brown and silver although you can get other colors sometimes depending on the felt used.  The oval of the hat.  this is how round or oval your head is and it varies from person to person.  Most people will conform to a regular oval shape but sometimes an individual has either a longer oval or a more rounded oval.  The type of Crown and crease.  There are many different crown/crease types and the style is up to the individual, see the Cowboy Outfitters pages for examples.   The type of Brim or shaping of the brim.  This can be of different widths and shapes depending on the preferences of the individual.  For custom built hats, the previously mentioned Cowboy Outfitters is a great source, whose hats are made by Rand's out of Montana.

If a hat seems slightly too loose on the head, the good trick is to place foam insulating tape along the inside of the brim.  This then allows a good fit with a little bit of give and it seems to stick to the head better.  You want to make sure that a hat isn't so tight on your head that you feel pressure but it also shouldn't be so lose that the slightest breeze will send it blowing across the field.

So a good question is "How the heck do hats stay on when someone is running with a horse?"  Well, there are three answers to that.  1.  The hat doesn't stay on     2.  The hat fits so well that it is practically molded to the head    3.  A special string is used that attaches to the inside of the sweat band on both sides of the face so that if the hat does blow back it is hooked on the rider.  You can get fancy ones with tassels and all kinds of goo-ga's but personally I like the simple unobtrusive types.

Storage                Return to top of page

Here are some general rules for storage with the key to all of it being - don't put pressure on the crown or brim as this may eventually cause the hat to lose its shape.

1.  If you do have to lay it on a flat surface, do so with the brim up and crown down to minimize stress on the brim.

2.  Hang the hat on a hat stand so that the crown is supported and the brim it isn't pressing down on anything.

3.  Hang the hat on the edge of shelf such that the brim is touching nothing.

3.  During long periods when your hat is not warn, it is probably better to store the hat in a hat box where it will be best protected.  An alternative is to create a cardboard ring (Take a 7" x 28" strip of Cardboard and staple it together to form a ring that you can lay the hat in.

Store hats in a cool, dry environment.  Hats react to heat and moisture with extended exposure potentially causing a hat to lose its shape.  Excessive heat can draw out straw hat fibers, and cause permanent damage to both straw and felt.  Moisture can cause the shape to lose integrity and may even mold or rot.  Even a hat left in a hot car can easily suffer damage from heat and humidity.  The worst place for a cowboy hat is in the backseat window of a hot car or truck.

Wet Hats                Return to top of page

Felt hats were designed to be used in the rain, that was part of their original function.  Wool hats are usually for dry climates and it is not recommended for any situation where they might get wet.  Straw hats can handle a light rain for a brief time but nothing more unless the hat is a palm leaf straw.  

If a felt hat gets wet, turn down the sweat band and stand a hat on a level, clean surface right side up on the sweat band.  Let it dry naturally and slowly.  Don't use heat to aid drying as it will cause the leather sweat band to shrink.  Make sure the brim does not rest on the surface.  Pressure of any sort on a wet hat will leave its mark when the hat dries.

If a straw hat gets wet, first to wipe off the surplus water with a clean dry cloth and then turn the sweatband out and place on a level, clean surface to dry turning out the sweatband after a hard day sweating in your hat, preserves the length of time that your hat is going to be of service.  With the band turned out, perspiration and hair oil evaporate and dry out instead of being transferred to the hat.  This is the case with straw hats as well as felt.   Any hat that is rain soaked can potentially sustain water damage. 

Protecting and Cleaning Hats                Return to top of page

A good idea is to protect a hat from water damage by a non-silicone based protector.  I often need to wear my felt hat in pouring rain and swear by this as now my hats just bead off any moisture and I avoid the prospect of a sopping wet hat.   I use one called, simply enough, "The Protector".  It's available from B&L products, 547 South 20th St, West, Billings, MT 59102.  Many hat shops seem to carry this one so you might want to check there first.  I usually spray it on and lightly brush it into the felt and then it dries.  If you just let the protectant sit on the surface it seems to give an unwanted sheen to the hat.  So far my method seems to have worked...

If your felt hat does get some rain spotting after it dries, you can use a felt hat cleaning sponge to remove the stains. For keeping felt hats clean, brushes work well but make sure you use different sets for dark and light-colored hats otherwise you might end up transferring color between hats.

If your hat really gets trashed with heavy dirt and stains, it's probably best have a professional bring your hat back to life. They can clean and reshape a hat that looked hopeless at one point.

Straw hats can be kept clean and fresh looking much longer if they are brushed regularly with a brim brush or an ordinary whisk broom. They can be cleaned using a damp sponge with non-detergent soap and lukewarm water. Then let it dry naturally.  

Felt hats should be brushed regularly with a brim brush to remove dust and dirt.  Starting on the left side of the hat brush counter clockwise around,  brushing the crown and brim in the same direction.  On the underside of the brim, brush clockwise.

Sometimes, a hat may lose it's shape due to mishandling, heat or moisture but this can usually be addressed by a professional.  They can "reblock" the hat which means the hat is placed in a shaping block and they steam it back into the correct shape.  If you only need to reshape the hat slightly, such as change the curve of the brim, you can go to a hat or western store and have them steam shape you hat into the desired configuration.

Wearing and Handling                Return to top of page

Well first things first, you never, ever want to be caught wearing your cowboy hat backwards.  I've seen it a couple of times and it's not pretty, on top of that it's bad luck.  On the inside of the hat, look for the small ribbon bow, that is the back of the hat.  Also, the hat band on the outside of the crown will most likely have a bow, feather, a buckle or some other adornment and that always sits on the left side when the hat is worn.  The last tip is that the hat will usually look narrower to the front.

Originally felt hats were intended for winter wear (protecting from moisture and cold) and straw for summer (protecting from heat and sun) which is logical.  The fashion rule seems to be felt between Labour day and the May long weekend, and straw in between.  Now however, both are seen worn either time of year depending on where you are.  I tend to follow the general rule of heat & sun=straw, night or cooler weather=felt.

Now there seem to be two schools of thought on handling hats.  One school says when putting on or removing your hat, hold the brim near the crown in the front and the back.  Another school says to never handle by the brim, to always lightly grasp the crown.  Essentially it boils down to this:  Any handling which causes flexing or bending of the brim or crown will gradually weaken the body of your hat.  The more severe the flex or bend, the sooner the hat will lose its natural ability to maintain its shape.  Personally, I usually handle my hats by the crown albeit gently.  I almost never handle them by the brim except to adjust them on my head, since this is a more easily disrupted structure.

I have a reasonably soft black wool hat that I would wear out sometimes and  someone once, thinking they were funny, pulled down the sides of my hat to almost 90 degrees.  Luckily because it was a wool hat, no real harm came to it although it wasn't good for the long term structural health of it.  A felt hat would not have survived that assault and my acquaintance would not have gotten off so lightly.  Rule #1: You don't mess with a cowboy's hat - See the Etiquette section for more on this.

To Travel with a hat, some make use of Travel Hat Boxes with Handles.  These are solid containers the protect the hat from physical and environmental damage, especially if it's a more expensive hat.  If I'm traveling and not wearing my relatively inexpensive hat, I simply carry it, albeit carefully, in a plastic shopping bag.

Cowboy Hat Etiquette                Return to top of page

OK.  As a general topic, this is an area of heated debate in some circles as etiquette, like any other human social interaction, changes with the times and location.  

But the first Rule that is indisputable and critical, is DO NOT mess with a cowboy's hat.  I knew someone who, in a Texas bar, heard a man ask his cowboy friend "Can I try your hat on?".  The man just looked at him and said, "You wouldn't want me askin' to try on your underwear would you?  So don't ask to try on my hat."  A cowboy hat is a very personal, and sometimes very expensive,  item that you don't pass around.  In some places, to touch a man's hat without permission will get you pile-driven into the wall, you just don't do it.

Some standard, base-line points of etiquette: 

  Any time you enter a building, the hat should come off.  
  If it is an informal occasion you may put it back on but for a formal occasion it should stay off.
  When sitting down at a table for a meal, the hat should come off unless there is nowhere to safely lay the hat.
  When sitting down at a counter for a meal, the hat can stay on.
  Out on the range however, keep your hat on while you eat. If you take your hat off, another wrangler might step on it or spill food into the rim.

Now all of the above rules are frequently ignored or modified depending on the locale, the situation, the people etc.  So use your best judgment and if in doubt, stick to the above rules to be sure you're not offending anyone's sensibilities.

I've always thought there was something particularly elegant about the cowboy greeting, touching one's hand to the brim of one's hat.  A part of the origin of this was that when men would meet, moving the hand to the hat brim signaled friendly intentions by moving the hand away from the holster.  Tipping of the cowboy hat when meeting someone depends completely upon the situation but it does show good breeding and respect.

Here are some more formal etiquette guidelines from CountryCalendar.com that go a bit farther than the standard points above.  These are more old fashioned and you don't see this practiced in most areas to this degree.

Parts of this page were adapted from the "Information and Care Guide for Western Hats" from Perryman Western Wear Inc., Phoenix, AZ.

Videos - Cowboy Hat Selection and Care                Return to top of page

Below is an excellent series of YouTube videos by Dustin Williams from AA Callisters for Expert Village totalling about 9 minutes. I embedded them below for convenience but you can also visit the Expert Village link at the bottom or find them directly on YouTube. They are also on the website for AA Calisters in Salt Lake City, UT also listed below. If you're ever in that area, make sure to stop in and visit them!

There are various videos out on the web but I thought this series was superb. It's great the Dustin has so clearly articulated and shared his knowledge with the world. Hats off to a job well done!

His video topics cover the following:

1. Cowboy Hat Etiquette
2. Cowboy Hats and Chemical Cleaning
3. Everyday Care for a Cowboy Hat
4. Felt Cowboy Hats
5. Hats vs Helmets for Rodeo Riders
6. How to Clean Cowboy Hats
7. How to Shape the Brim of a Cowboy Hat
8. How to Shape the Crown of a Cowboy Hat
9. Straw Cowboy Hats
10.Styles of Cowboy Hats
11.Terms and Types of Dress Hats
12.Tips for Sizing a Cowboy Hat
13.What to Look for in a Cowboy Hat

1. Cowboy Hat Etiquette

2. Cowboy Hats and Chemical Cleaning


3. Everyday Care for a Cowboy Hat

4. Felt Cowboy Hats


5. Hats vs Helmets for Rodeo Riders

6. How to Clean Cowboy Hats


7. How to Shape the Brim of a Cowboy Hat

8. How to Shape the Crown of a Cowboy Hat


9. Straw Cowboy Hats

10. Styles of Cowboy Hats


11. Terms and Types of Dress Hats

12. Tips for Sizing a Cowboy Hat


13. What to Look for in a Cowboy Hat

Link to AA Calisters

Link to Expert Village