Buying a Cowboy Hat
The Big 'X'
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.
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
A size 7 hat is basically a hat that will fit a head with the circumference of 7 x 3.1416 (22"). A head that is 23 1/3" in circumference is 23 1/3" divided by 3.1416 which gives 7.42. So essentially this person would wear either a 7 3/8 or 7 1/2 size hat. In my own experience, different hat makes and models may size slightly differently. I usually wear a 7 1/4 but I have had 7 3/8 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.
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. If you go in the rain with your black hat and color starts to run down your face, that's an indication that you bought a really cheap hat that used cheap dies. Straw hats now have more variety as palm leaf has become a more common material and this increases the available weaves, patterns and colors that are available.
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.
There are three main parts of the hat, the crown, the crease in the crown and the brim and all together they create the style of the hat. Below is a diagram of the basic parts of the hat.
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.
Brim Size and Shape
The brim 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, a 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. You can place the tape strategically in the loose spots and remove it from tight spots - this is usually only necessary if the oval of the hat doesn't conform exactly to the oval of your head.
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.