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How to Choose the Best Cowboy Hat Material

May 18th 2022

Leather Versus Wool Versus Straw: Best Cowboy Hat Materials

Cowboy hats come in a variety of materials, including leather, fur felt or wool, and straw. When choosing the best material for a Western hat, consider your needs and preferences, when and where you’ll wear it, as well as how much maintenance you are willing to provide to keep it in top condition. Explore these common cowboy hat materials, pros and cons of each, and decide which is best for you.

Fur Felt and Wool Cowboy Hats

Fur felt hats may be crafted of beaver, rabbit, another type of fur, or felted wool. Felt hats are crafted of fine underfur or wool that is put through the felting process: It is exposed to steam and water, causing the fur to shrink and interlock in many directions. This creates a warm, lightweight material that is then formed into cone, then shaped into a hat.

Many cowboy hats are made from readily available beaver fur—including silverbelly, the fur from a beaver’s belly. Beaver fur is favored because the barbed hairs interlock very well to create a dense, weather-resistant material.

When to Wear a Fur or Wool Cowboy Hat

Available in both traditional and crushable, packable styles, felt hats are popular options that can lean casual to dressy. Add a hat band or other embellishment for a special occasion, or choose a simple style for everyday wear. During stretches of cold, winter weather, fur and wool cowboy hats keep your head warm and dry, but are also breathable so you don’t overheat.

Generally, wool and felt hats are reserved for fall through spring (Labor Day through Memorial Day), while cooler hat materials make their way into Western wardrobes for hot summer weather. Because it’s a classic option, you can wear a fur felt hat year-round—if you’re comfortable—but, many reserve the style for special occasions and dressing up, rather than working.

Determining Cowboy Hat Quality With the X-Factor

To determine the quality of wool and fur felt hats, refer to the X factor rating. This scale runs from one through ten and denotes what percentage of the hat material is genuine fur. This rating is displayed on a label as a series of Xs (such as XXXXX) or as a number paired with an X (such as 9X). Generally, the higher the number, the more fur content, making a better quality hat.

Faux Fur Cowboy Hats

If you like the look and feel of wool cowboy hats but would like a less expensive option, faux fur might be the right choice. A high-quality hat crafted of faux fur can look just as nice as the real deal, and is easy to wear, clean, and maintain. Even better, a faux felt option may be easier on the budget, letting you add other Western accessories to your collection with the savings.

Straw Cowboy Hats

Straw hats are favorite options for casual wear—especially during hot summer months, thanks to the extra airflow the material and construction techniques offer, and wider, sun-blocking brim designs. While often preferred for fashion, the highest quality straw hats are durable enough to wear while working the ranch or on the job site.

Straw hats have a few drawbacks: They don’t keep you as warm in cold weather, they’re not made to be waterproof without pre-treatment, and they can be more difficult to clean. Some hats are more durable and better suited to hard wear than others, though. When choosing a straw hat, opt for rugged straw varieties and look for tighter weaves for work-ready styles. Lightweight hats with looser weaves may not be right for long workdays—but are perfectly suited for fashion.

When to Wear a Straw Cowboy Hat

Straw cowboy hats are worn most often in the summer: A lightweight, light-colored straw hat is great at keeping the hot sun off your face and neck, and the weave allows for better airflow so your head doesn’t overheat. A well-fitted straw hat is an ideal option while horseback riding in the summertime heat. A general guideline is to wear a straw hat from Memorial Day through Labor Day—but this isn’t a requirement. If the weather allows, you can wear your straw hat earlier or later in the year for better comfort.

Leather and Suede Cowboy Hats

While less common than felt, wool, and straw, you may prefer a leather or suede cowboy hat. Leather and suede cowboy hats are durable, block the sun and weather, and can repel snow and rain when properly conditioned and sealed. Specially formulated cleaners and waterproofing treatments help your leather cowboy hat last longer, no matter what you put it through. Without proper cleaning, care, and storage, leather hats may show wear: Always clean and dry your hat after exposure to the elements—and never use heat, as it may cause cracking or other damage.

When to Wear a Leather or Suede Cowboy Hat

When properly conditioned and treated, leather and suede cowboy hats are great for repelling rain and snow, keeping you dry and comfortable in a range of weather. This style may be too hot for summertime wear, but you can wear it year-round if you are comfortable.

So, which hat material is best? That’s up to you—but, we think they all have their place. No matter what cowboy hat material you choose, proper cleaning and care will help it last through nights on the dance floor, work weeks on the jobsite, days in the saddle, and every special celebration. Explore our Western wear blog for more fashion tips and inspiration.