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Western Wear Without The Douche: Felt Hat Basics

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Cooler weather is rolling in and if you haven’t observed hat day yet, then you might be on the lookout for a new felt hat. The cowboy hat is the definitive part of western style, the one thing that will always scream “cowboy” to a stranger. Felt hats can be a bigger investment, financially and stylistically, so here’s some basics to help you find and keep a good felt hat.

If you’re shopping for a felt hat right now, you might be too late. Better deals are had in the spring and summer when retailers are trying to move out some inventory. Same with straw hats in the fall and winter.  You might not be wearing it right away, but that’s no reason not to save yourself a few bucks on some manly headwear. Felt is pretty resilient and if you take care of your hat (and store it properly) you’ll get years and years out of it. To store it over the warm weather months brush it off, make sure it’s dry and either put it back in the box it came in or resting on it’s crown somewhere cool, dry and dark. Don’t wrap it in plastic since this traps moisture in and doesn’t let your hat breath. Hats can mildew. Don’t let that happen.

Generally more X’s mean more beaver fur. Beaver fur is expensive so more X’s mean more money. Pure beaver hats start somewhere around $800 and go up from there. Pure beaver hats, like beavers themselves, are pretty scarce, and other furs like rabbit, mink, and chinchilla are also used to make felt. Wool felt is also used to make hats.

As with all things, over time X’s have come to be less standard as different manufacturers apply X’s by their own schemes. 2oX was once a top of the line hat, but now can mean almost anything. By and large though, fur felt hats will have more X’s while wool felt hats will have fewer X’s and be cheaper. and I’ve had a few wool felt knockaround hats and they get the job done but they don’t hold up as well as hats made with fur felt. The reason is that fur is a pretty resilient material. It repels moisture and insulates on critters and in felt form as a hat. Beavers swim around in icy rivers, look good doing it and seem pretty happy about it because their fur protects them from the wet and cold. It will do the same on your head if you take care of it.

If your hat gets wet shake the moisture off. If it gets dirty, brush it off. I recommend a hat brush with bristles that correspond to your hat’s color. (White bristles for gray hats, black bristles for black hats.) Most western stores carry these as well as sponges that are also handy for cleaning hats. For stains, try Scout Hat Cleaner. You spray it on, wait until it turns to powder, then brush it off. It’s worked on grease stains. I won’t tell you how I know this, but it also works on getting scotch stains out of a silverbelly hat too.

Every fall when I pull my felt hat out of storage, I like to clean it up and take it in to get blocked. To clean it I use a brush, a sponge and Scout Hat Cleaner like I mentioned above. To block your hat, take it to any good western wear store or hat shop. They’ll have a steamer to shape it. I find that not only will this correct any weird shape your hat might have taken over the summer, but it livens up the felt and helps the hat reshape itself to your head. Hat shaping is a bit like barbering. It’s a skill that can be taught, but there’s a lot of natural talent that comes into it too. Consequently, finding a good hat shop is like finding a good barber shop and all that implies. Be specific about what you want and realistic about what’s possible. You’ll walk out feeling and looking like a million bucks and hopefully you will have left a big tip.

Like I said before, hats can be an expensive place to tie up money from your clothing budget. That’s why I advise looking for deals like shopping in the spring. I’m also a big believer in buying the best you can, saving up and keeping your eyes open for a deal. With luck, patience and care, you can end up with a good looking hat that will last you for years. Everyone needs a good hat. If you take care of your hat, it will take care of you.





About Seth

Bury my heart in West Texas.

3 responses »

  1. Good recs. However, there are style issues to be addressed:
    1. No feathers, not one.
    2. No rattlesnake band unless you killed it. (Sorta kidding)
    3. The crown, brim and shoulders should align to create a pyramid. This helps you avoid buying a hat that’s too wide or tall.
    4. If you’re a city boy, like me, consider a Stetson Open Road or something similarly conservative. Real cowboys will tolerate you better if you’re wearing a less flamboyant “drugstore cowboy” style.

  2. Make that “not wearing a flamboyant drugstore cowboy style.”

    • All good suggestions, Jeff! Personally, I’ve seen some people with a turkey feather in their hat. It looked awesome and they totally owned it. Probably not for everyone though.


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