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Hat Buying – What the “X” Means

Hat Buying – What the “X” Means
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The X rating system has become a staple of the hat industry. Given how the system has been increasingly adopted, you’ve probably already come across hats with different “X” ratings. The range is extensive, from 2X beaver to XXX and even 1000X. But what does the X mean?

Let’s start with a brief history. As far back as the 1930s, the X rating system applied to felt cowboy hats. Back then, the X indicated the amount of beaver fur felt content in a hat. Beaver is one of if not the best quality fur for hat making. Beaver hats are durable, water-resistant, light-weight and thin. In addition to cleaning up better and lasting longer, they hold their shape better than most other materials.

As such, More X’s meant more beaver felt used in the hat’s making. Today, that is far from the case as a variety of hats are described or rated using the X system. Hats made of a variety of materials such as straw, felt (regardless of the type of felt), or others use the X rating system. 

Strangely enough, things get even more confusing. And the confusion stems primarily from the fact that there’s no industry standard for the X rating system. In theory, a higher X factor should denote a higher beaver content. Hat makers use the system as a relative rating of quality for their own line of hats, but the system used by one manufacturer may or may not be comparable to another maker’s hats.

For instance, if a hat maker rates a hat as 5X, it may not necessarily be of similar quality to a 5X hat made by a different manufacturer. Similarly, one company’s 50X could be the same as another hat maker’s hat with a 5X designation. The X value, therefore, depends on how a particular hat maker decides to rank their hats in terms of quality and how they choose to break that down.

A 5X beaver quality hat must have a decent amount of beaver fur content in it, right? Well, that depends. If you’re talking about a 1940s Stetson, then chances are it’s an undyed pure beaver hat. Today’s comparable offering would retail in the range of a thousand dollars. On the other hand, 5X beaver can be a complete rabbit or wool hat depending on the hat maker and year.

Straw vs Felt

Since both straw and felt hats use an X rating system, it’s easy to assume that it’s the same system, but nothing could be further from the truth. The X rating system used for straw hats is not only different but also equally obscure and complicated as the system used for felt hats.

The Bottom line

Since ascertaining the true X rating of a hat can be a long arduous process, your best bet is to discuss the material’s X rating with the dealer or hat maker. But ultimately, the real test is the look and feel of the hat: a good quality felt hat is soft and silky rather than hard and dry.

When all is said and done, the X system can still be useful when comparing different hat models from a particular maker.

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