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Why Are Cowboy Hats So Expensive? Are they worth the costs?

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When I was younger, I used to ask my grandfather why cowboy hats were so expensive. He would always tell me the same thing: “because they’re worth it.” I never understood what he meant until I met a man that explained the in and outs of making cowboy hats.

Cowboy hats are expensive because of the materials and craftsmanship that go into making them. You need high-quality straw or felt to make a good cowboy hat. Then there’s the labor involved in hand-forming each individual hat. In addition, high consumer demand and low supply contribute to the high price of cowboy hats.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why cowboy hats are so expensive? It’s a question I always ask myself when I see the outrageous prices that some of these hats go for. In this blog post, I’ll look at why cowboy hats cost so much and what goes into making them. We also look at the material used to make cowboy hats. So if you’re curious about cowboy hats and want to know more, keep reading.

Picture of a woman wearing a cowboy hat with her horse.

What Makes Cowboy Hats So Expensive?

Cowboy hats are expensive because they are made of high-quality materials and are handcrafted by experienced artisans. Additionally, top brands typically make and ship small quantities of their hats, increasing demand and prices.

Here are more details about why cowboy hats are so expensive:

Rich History

A cowboy hat symbolizes a cowboy’s spirit of resilience and independence and was even the most Instagrammable accessory in the summer of 2019. They’ve been worn by kings, ranch hands, political figures, and businessmen alike. 

Few items in the history of American culture carry the same iconic weight as the cowboy hat. Even a saying goes to reflect it: a cowboy hat is the last thing you take off and the first thing that is noticed.

Before John B Stetson came on the scene, ranchers and cowboys wore castoffs like formal top hats, derbies, and even the headgear from the Civil War. 

John Stetson showed his skill in fashioning items of clothing from fur using his hand dipped in hot water to shape the material. One such item was a large hat that protected the wearer from the sun, rain, wind, etc. Stetson himself wore this hat on his hunting trips, and soon horsemen were paying him $5 per hat. Before long, the cowboy hat had become symbolic of the Wild West.

Cowboy hats also had utilitarian value: they became the perfect hiding spot for keeping money and precious documents. Therefore, it became a valued addition to the wardrobe of every westerner. Even in those days, the cowboy hat was not cheap.

Stetson hats made of beaver fur could cost between $10-$30 – a princely sum in the late 1800s. The hats often cost more than an entire suit of clothing, and it wasn’t unheard of for a man to spend his monthly wage on a Stetson hat.

Below is a YouTube video that shows the steps to make a cowboy hat.

Exclusivity and Excellent Craftsmanship

Another factor that contributes to the high cost of cowboy hats is the manufacturing process. Cowboy hats are typically handcrafted, which means that they take longer to make than mass-produced hats. The manufacturing process is also more labor-intensive, as it requires a great deal of skill and experience.

Cowboy hats from top brands like Stetson, J W Brooks, and Resistol make very few hats each year and also ship them in small quantities. Their hats are not mass-produced. Instead, they are hand-made by a trained artisan who has undergone years of training. 

The style of a cowboy hat can also affect its price. Some styles, such as the classic Stetson cowboy hat, are more expensive than others. Additionally, custom-made cowboy hats will typically cost more than those that are mass-produced.

To give you an idea, here are some of the steps that a Boss-of-The-Plains Stetson hat undergoes:

  • Stetson hats still start with the century-old felting process to convert the fur into felt. Much of Stetson’s equipment is still the antique equipment John Stetson used in the 1800s.
  • Fur mixing – in this step, different furs are mixed, and strands are separated according to length.
  • Forming – the felt fur is then formed using hot water at a precise temperature to shrink and tighten the fur. This decides the felt’s density – an important factor that decides the hat’s quality. I have covered this in detail later.
  • Dying and shaping – the processed felt fur is then dyed and shaped into the unique cowboy hat shape. The crown shaping follows based on the head size.
  • Finishing – the rough material is then sanded down to smooth it out. After sanding, the hat is compacted, and the crown is pressed using 80 lb. pressure to give it its unique shape.

Some hat makers have also added unique touches to their cowboy hats, such as signature creases, special colors, wider brims, accessories for women, etc.

Many of these brands aim to keep their hats for dressy occasions like weddings rather than for everyday use. These factors have raised the price of custom cowboy hats dramatically.

The Use of Unique Materials

One of the primary factors that make cowboy hats so expensive is the quality of the materials used to make them. Cowboy hats are typically made from high-quality materials such as wool, beaver pelts, and other exotic furs. These materials are not only expensive, but they are also difficult to source.

  • Stetson hats are made from beaver, rabbit, wild hare, and other furs.
  • Resistol hats are made of straw or fur felt that comes from mink, chinchilla, beaver, and other exotic animals.
  • Justin hats are made of premium wool/animal fur and leather.
  • JW Brook cowboy hats are made of goat hide and Drilex-type backing.

Many of these hat makers also add diamonds and gold embellishments to their cowboy hats, further driving their prices up.

The Brand

The brand of a cowboy hat can also impact its price. Some cowboy hat brands are more well-known and respected than others, and this can translate into a higher price tag. Additionally, some brands may use higher-quality materials or have a more labor-intensive manufacturing process, which can also drive up the cost.

The size

The size of a cowboy hat can also play a role in its price. Generally speaking, larger cowboy hats will cost more than smaller ones. This is partly due to the fact that larger hats require more material. Additionally, larger hats may be more labor-intensive to produce due to their size and shape.

Resellers Also Drive Up the Cost in the Pre-Owned Market

Since hand-made, custom-designed cowboy hats may not be readily available in boutique stores all the time, resellers demand 4-5 times the price of the original hat in the preowned market. 

Due to their exclusivity and limited availability, cowboy hats continue to command high prices even on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, etc. During the Covid-19 pandemic,  prices of hats went up higher due to increased digital access to everything. This further increased innovation and efficiency so that businesses had no choice but to scale up.

How can you tell the quality of a cowboy hat?

You can usually tell the quality of a cowboy hat by its price. The most expensive cowboy hats are made from animal pelts, which are typically water-resistant and more comfortable than other materials. Beaver pelts, for example, are durable, so they can last for many years with proper care.

Cheaper cowboy hats are made from materials like straw or synthetic wool, which are not as durable and will need to be replaced more often. When you’re looking at cowboy hats, pay attention to the brim. A well-made hat will have a brim that is stiff enough to hold its shape but still flexible enough to be bent.

The best cowboy hats also have a sweatband that helps to wick away moisture, keeping your head cool and dry even on the hottest days. If you’re looking for a high-quality cowboy hat, be prepared to pay a bit more for it. But in the long run, it will be worth it. Here are some specific things to look for when choosing a cowboy hat:

Quality of Felt

Top cowboy hat manufacturers print the letter X inside the hat’s liner to denote the quality of the felt. The more the number of Xs, the higher quality it is. 

Here is what the X denotes: 

  • X – a single X denotes soft wool, or synthetic felt with fairly good deformation resistance.
  • 10 X – this is usually a mixture of rabbit and wool felt. It is light and has good resistance to deformation.
  • 20 X – this is 20% rabbit felt, which has good resistance to deformation, is naturally waterproof, and also lightweight
  • 50 X – This is 50% beaver and 50% rabbit or mixed felt. It has very high durability, is naturally waterproof, and is also lightweight.
  • 100 X- 100% beaver felt, has great longevity, is naturally waterproof,  very modelable, and very light.

Naturally, the X of felt isn’t a fool-proof way of telling the quality of a hat. After all, any manufacturer can print thousands of Xs on their hats. This is why selecting your hat from reputed brands is important. (And also try the needle test – mentioned below).

Type of Felt

There are two types of felts: fur felt is more expensive than wool felt. Wool-felt hats are comfortable, affordable, and ideal for winter. However, if you want a cowboy hat with a slightly more designed shape that lasts longer and generally makes a bolder style statement, go for a felt hat.

Density of Felt

The density of the felt decides the hat’s ability to retain its shape and remain lively despite the daily wear and tear it is subjected to. The density is decided by the tightness of the felt fibers. You can try a needle test to assess the felt’s density – press a needle into the hat. If you feel extreme resistance, then the hat’s density and quality are both high.

How Much Does a High-Quality Cowboy Hat Cost?

Cowboy hats today start from $50 all the way up to thousands of dollars. Their price depends on the brand, the quality of materials used, and of course, the craftsmanship. 

Expensive fur-felt hats usually start from $150. These are made using high-quality fur felt. The cheaper ones are available for around $50-$100. Here is how to tell the quality of a cowboy hat:

Picture of the kids wearing their cowboy hats before a Garth Brooks concert.

Why cowboy hats are worth their high price tags.

Cowboy hats are worth their high price tags because they’re stylish and look great on both men and women. In addition, they provide essential protection from the elements when working outside. So if you’re looking for a functional and stylish piece of headwear, a cowboy hat is definitely worth the investment.

Here is why you should fork out the money for a cowboy hat:

  1. Durable
    One of the primary reasons cowboy hats are worth their high price tags is that they are extremely durable. Unlike most other types of hats, cowboy hats are made to withstand harsh weather conditions and rough wear. They are typically made from materials such as straw or felt, which are both very strong and resistant to damage. Additionally, cowboy hats often have a wide brim that helps to protect the wearer’s face from the sun and wind.
  2. Stylish
    In addition to being durable, cowboy hats are also very stylish. They can be worn with a variety of different outfits and can help to create a unique look. Cowboy hats come in a wide range of colors and styles, so there is sure to be one that suits your taste.
  3. Functional
    Cowboy hats are more than just a fashionable accessory; they serve an important function in protecting the wearer from the elements. In addition to shading the face and neck from the sun, cowboy hats also help to keep dust and dirt out of the eyes. And when it rains, the wide brim of a cowboy hat can help keep the rain off of the head and from running down the back of your neck.
  4. Comfortable
    Another reason cowboy hats are worth their high price tags is that they are extremely comfortable. Unlike many other types of hats, cowboy hats do not pinch or bind when worn. They are also lightweight and breathable, making them ideal for wearing in hot weather.
  5. Timeless
    Cowboy hats never go out of style. They have been popular for centuries and show no signs of falling out of fashion anytime soon. Whether you’re looking for a hat to wear to a country-themed party or you simply want to add a touch of western flair to your wardrobe, a cowboy hat is always a good choice.
  6. Versatile
    Cowboy hats can be worn for a variety of occasions, both formal and informal. They look great with jeans and boots for a casual look or can be dressed up with a shirt and tie for a more formal occasion. No matter what your style is, you can find a way to incorporate a cowboy hat into your wardrobe.
  7. They Make a Statement Wearing a cowboy hat is also a great way to make a statement. Whether you want to show your country pride or simply stand out from the crowd, a cowboy hat is sure to get you noticed.

Most Expensive Cowboy Hat Brands

At the 2016 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Lady Gaga presumably wore the most expensive cowboy hat. It was designed by Gladys Tamez and is valued at $1 million. The reason for this high price? It took nearly ten people more than 300 hours to make.

The other noteworthy cowboy hat price was earned by the one worn by actor John Wayne in his films like Big Jake and Train Robbers, etc. It was sold for a whopping $119,500 at a 2011 auction.

Winston Churchill’s cowboy hat was also auctioned off at $10,000. It was a Stetson made of fur and had a personalized stamp inside.

Mathew McConaughey’s cowboy hat (made by Resistol), which he wore in the Dallas Buyer’s Club and went on to win an Oscar for his role, was auctioned off at a whopping $12,956. 

He had hand-signed “Just Keep Living” on the inside, and the hat even came with a certificate of authenticity from Universal Pictures.

Here is a list of some of the most expensive cowboy hat brands:

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Stetson

Stetson is one of the cowboy hat industry’s most well-known and respected brands. The company has been making hats since 1865, and its products are known for their quality craftsmanship.

Stetson cowboy hats start from $130 all the way to $5000. The average price range of a Stetson cowboy hat is $200-$400, although there are Stetsons selling for over $5000.

Resistol 

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Resistol is another well-known brand in the cowboy hat industry. The company was founded in 1930 and has been making high-quality hats ever since. Resistol hats are handmade in Texas. You can buy them from their site, but the brand also retails its products on top retailer websites.

The starting price we found on retailer sites was just $50. However, they also had a few cowboy hats made of rabbit fur, beaver felt, and engraved silver buckles, retailing at $500. On Rarest.org, we found a Resistol cowboy hat made from beaver belly fur to sell for $1325.

AzTex Hat Company

The AzTex Hat Company is located in Scottsdale, AZ. Their Classic Rancher Cowboy Hat 50X costs $1014. It has a silk lining and a leather sweatband.

JW Brooks Custom Hats

If you own a custom cowboy hat from JW Brooks, you’re in great company. The brand is popular with celebrities, artists, and entertainers.  After all, JW Brooks’ hats last a lifetime. So, you can expect to pay over $1000 for every 100% beaver fur hat with a custom shape. They use exotic furs like chinchilla, mink, and many others in their hats.

Larry Mahan 

Larry Mahan cowboy hats are available on Amazon starting around $250 up to $600. The brand uses only the best fur and materials in all its products. Larry himself was a professional rodeo cowboy and also won several world championships.

Conclusion – Why Are Cowboy Hats So Expensive?

Cowboy hats are expensive because the good-quality ones are made using superior felt fur obtained from animals like beaver, mink, chinchillas, hare, rabbits, coypus, etc.

Top brands also make limited editions of their custom cowboy hats, making them exclusive. Some of these hats are hand-made by skilled artisans who have undergone years of training in this craft. Celebrities, artists, and entertainers have also made cowboy hats a fashion statement. All these factors have increased the prices of custom cowboy hats greatly.

FAQs – Why Are Cowboy Hats So Expensive?

What brand of hats do real cowboys wear?

Real cowboys choose long-lasting, custom-designed, handmade cowboy hats from top brands like Stetson, Resistol, JW Brooks, etc. Some might opt for affordable brands like Ariat, Peter Grimm, UWantC, etc., which are well-known for their straw hats.

What is the most expensive Stetson?

Stetson’s Diamante Premier cowboy hat is one of the most expensive hats on their site retailing for over $5000. It is made in the USA using 1000x felt and has a 14K gold buckle with 26 real diamonds.