Felt Quality Guide

Go to any hat shop or westernwear store and look around.  You’re bound to come across a bevy of hats with different “X” ratings.  XXX quality.  10X beaver.  But what does it all mean?

I sell a lot of vintage hats and a question I get all the time is, “What would you estimate the X value of the felt as?”  It’s a simple question with a not-so-simple answer.


X value depends on age
Over the years, there has been significant “X Value Inflation”. An example: In the 1930s, Stetson’s top of the line X value was a 5X. 5X got you an undyed pure beaver hat of the highest order- the kind of hat given as presentation pieces, and selling, when new, for about eight times (or more) what a standard fur felt Stetson would have run. These days, Stetson’s comparable offering would probably be the 100X El presidente, which retails in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars. It’s not that the hat is 20 times better quality than their old top of the line, it’s purely inflation.
And if you compare apples to apples- the same manufacturer with the same X rating, but from different years, you may be in for a shock. I have had 7X Stetsons from the 1950s which have beautifully dense and soft to the touch felt, and 7X stetsons from the 1970s which are rough and porous.

X value depends on maker
The X rating system is not consistent maker to maker. A vintage XXX Stetson is not the same quality as a vintage XXX Resistol is not the same quality as a vintage XXX Portis. Some makers used Xs, others used Stars, but the idea is the same. For a given year and a given maker, the system can be useful. A new 10X is a better and more expensive hat than a new 3X from the same maker. But with no real industry oversight, no “Felt Hat FDA” to answer to, there’s nothing to prevent a company from putting forward a hat of inferior quality and marking it 3X to go up against 3Xs of other companies. To defend against this “X Undercutting”, other companies have to raise their X values to reflect what other companies are making, and next thing you know, you get sometimes extreme, and uneven inflation.
Another high priced example: Stetson’s thousand dollar offering is a 100X. Larry Mahan’s thousand dollar offering is a 500X. Is the Larry Mahan a better hat? Maybe, maybe not. Is it 5 times the quality of the Stetson, and therefore are you getting some kind of amazing deal on it? No.

X value depends on product lineup
Stetson makes hats marked 2X all the way up through 1000X. What does Stetson have to say about what their X’s mean? Not much at all. The X value really depends on what a particular company decides to mark the bottom and top qualities as, and then how they decide to break that down.

X value depends on marketing
2X beaver quality? That sounds okay, right? Must have some good beaver content in it. Well- no.
2X beaver can be a completely wool hat depending on the company and year. No beaver content, no fur felt in it at all.

X value is different straw vs. felt
You can buy a 10,000X Straw cowboy hat new for under $200. Not that it really means a whole lot in felt, but as both felt and straw hats use an X rating system, it would seem that it’s the same system. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s a different system, equally arbitrary, and equally meaningless outside of individual product lines.

The X system can be useful in some ways, though. If you’re buying new from a particular maker, you can use it to compare models. Similarly, if you know how to accurately date vintage hats, you can use it somewhat similarly. But generally speaking, when buying vintage hats, it’s more of a distraction than an asset when talking quality, especially for beginner collectors, people who buy primarily modern production hats, or people with a background in western hats.


3 thoughts on “Felt Quality Guide

  1. I recently inherited my grandfather’s Stetson 25 hat in its box. Its a size 7 and I’ m a 9. Does this hat have a resale value? I’m having a rummage sale this spring and would like to know a ballpark asking price. The hat shows no wear.

    • I inherented my Dads hats. I display them in my family room on an antique hat stand. We enjoy them and they are a reminder of the days when Daddy was a real cowboy

  2. Felt quality is a matter of many years’ studying and especially feeling different felts. A giveaway in ebay pictures is when the photo’s visibly show signs of pliability, sometimes odd “bashes”: rest assured: any shape can -usually- be altered with some plain steam from a the boiling water from the spout of a kettle! And an almost failsafe rule of thumb: older is better. Felt from the 1930-1940-1950 decades (in a way, the big hat period ended with Kennedy’s presidential inauguration) is almost always far better than new felt, the sourcing of which has, with time, become more problematic. An old hat, as long as it hasn’t been marked by mothbites, may be soiled, dusty, the sweatband may be crackled and needing replacement, the ribbon may be torn or discolored, and the entire hat may need reblocking. But after that, chances are you will have a much better hat than the new ones on the market, even top brands like Borsalino or, I regret to say worse, like Stetson, which used to be a fantastic producer of the finest headwear. I have a 1940’s Stetson cowboy hat, the crown of which is so pliable that it can, at the twist of a few fingers, be shaped into any shape you wish, and retain that shape. Phenomenal felt, that is!

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