Hat Making Materials

Q: What's the difference between Wool, Fur Felt and Beaver?

A. Many people think of felt as a kind of cloth, smoother and tougher than cotton or woolen fabric, but cloth nevertheless. The fact is that there is no likeness whatever in the principles of production between felted fabric and woven fabric.

Felt differs from every other fabric in that it is made of a myriad of short, single animal fibers which are interlocked by their natural tendency to “crawl” and twist when kneaded and manipulated in hot water and steam. Felt is the strongest fabric known because every fiber is interlocked in every direction with a number of other fibers. All other fabrics are made of fibers which are first twisted into threads and then woven by hand or machine. As these threads are always woven either in right angle or parallel lines, the woven fabric may be torn apart along a straight line.

Felt can be made into the smoothest fabric known, once again because it is made of tiny single fibers interlocking in every direction rather than groups of twisted fibers woven in a straight line. Felt is the lightest fabric known, in relation to its tensile strength, because a minimum of fibers are required to make the requisite toughness. Felt is the most resilient of fabrics, for the same reason. Felt is the more impervious to water than any other fabric, because of the close interlocking of its fibers and because the animal fibers themselves do not soak up moisture.

Wool felt is indeed a fur from sheep but it is sheared. Accordingly, while it is serviceable for a while it is not nearly as durable as Fur Felt and Beaver, with a much shorter lifespan.

Fur felt is not sheared. The animal pelts are handled so the fur may be removed. In fur, the fibers are matted on a special machine which removes clotted fur, air and dirt.

Fur felt hats are chiefly made of rabbit fur. Some hare fur is used to make better hats, and is often mixed with rabbit fur to produce hats in various medium price grades.

Beaver, the finest fur, is usually used in the best hats.

By “fur” is meant the downy under-fur of these animals, not the long, coarse hair that is commonly called fur. Only this under-fur has on the surface of each fiber the barb-like projections which will lock the fibers together to make a strong felt.

Fur felt hats are superior in lightness of weight, mellowness to the touch, and ability to keep their shape and withstand weather and renovating.

A good fur blend is a proper combination of large and small fibers to produce the texture wanted. So much long stock is needed to give a good rate and quality of felting and so much short stock to fill the interstices, thus imparting smoothness and compactness. As many as eight different types of grades of fur may enter into a single fur mixture, depending on the price of the hat, the color to which it is to be dyed, etc.

Fur Felt is made from Rabbit, and Beaver is actually made from wild Beaver pelts. In both cases, the fur is shaved to the undercoat, which is then also sanded or shaved to a desired smoothness. Because of the natural oils in both animals, the Rabbit and Beaver have different qualities. Since Beavers spend so much time in the water, they have much higher oil content, thus their furs are more “luxurious”, water resistant, and soft to the touch. Both furs, especially when used at 100% content (and not blends) are excellent materials for hats. The difference has more to do with look and feel than durability, though the Beaver does keep its “sheen” longer. When making hats for Motion Pictures, the Beaver is more desirable, since the oils in the fur also catch the light, and bring out the hat more dramatically.

Q: What's the difference between ``blends`` and ``100%``?

A. 100% is the pure fur with nothing added, whereas, blends are 50% Beaver and Rabbit combined.

What are the materials actually made of to create a hat, and where do they come from?

A. At Baron, we get the majority of our hat bodies from Winchester Hat Company (no relation to the Winchester rifle), in Tennessee (located in the same county as the famous Jack Daniels distillery). Winchester is one of the best fur processing companies in the world. They take the fur pelts, and turn them into what we call “bodies”, which are ready for final work and blocking after being made into various size circles of material. They are graded at Winchester for quality and material.

Q: What is ``Dress Weight`` and ``Western Weight``?

A. This has to do with the weight of the “bodies”. Dress Weight is lighter and usually used for classic styles like Fedoras or Homburgs, thus the name “Dress Weight”. It is usually approximently four ounces. Western Weight is a thicker body, usually used for western style hats, thus the name.

Q: What is the difference between ``long fur`` and ``short fur`` when you order a Beaver hat?

A. Long fur has a “satin look”. Most hats could be made of long fur and hand-brushed and oiled to a satin finish. It actually takes some effort to make long fur look and feel right (thus the expression “hand brushed”), so sometimes they cost more.

Q: You say that your Beaver hats are 200XXX. What does that number mean?

A. The use of “X” on hats (like Stetson uses) is not a universal code. The X on a hat is a form of grading that each individual hat company uses to grade their own hats. The company that supplies us with our bodies uses their own grading. For them, the 200XXX is the ultimate top of the line, highest quality Beaver that they sell. That’s the only fur we will use!

Q: I notice that many of your hats are made from the ``original blocks``. What exactly is a ``block``?

A. A hat is not formed into a shape like a sculptor does…

Hat bodies must be pressed and shaped around a wooden form that is called a Hat Block.

When we refer to “original blocks” these are the blocks that were original made for the famous hat, and that we have in our vast collection.

Having your hat formed with such a block insures that you are truly getting an exact replica!


celebrity hat blocks

Q: You use a material called ``Grosgrain`` on many of your hat bands. What is ``Grosgrain``?

A. It’s simply the same of a kind of ribbon, which is used extensively for the hatbands, and bindings of hats. It comes in many colors and widths.

Q: Some of the brims of your hats have ``binding``. What exactly is that?

A. Binding is a narrow piece of Grosgrain Ribbon that is sewn over the edge of the brim.

In most cases the binding matches the color and material of the hatband.


Q: Can a hat, let's say that you make in Fur Felt be made in leather, or visa versa?

A. Most hats that are made in Fur Felt can also be made in leather, and visa versa. It depends on the shaping and the blocking. You can easily request the hat in any material you want, and we can tell you right away if we can make it in that material, and how much extra it would cost.

Q: What if I don't want a hat made of animal products? Can you make a hat in something else and if so, what do you use?

A. We can make a hat from many fabrics, including wool (most animal activists have no problem with wool since it does not harm the animal), or non-animal fabrics like buckram, and even plant fibers like bamboo, and, of course, straw.

Custom Hats

Q: How do you determine the price quote to make a custom hat?

A. Although materials are important (fur felt or Beaver, or special leathers) in determining price, actually most of the price for any custom hat comes from the labor. All hats are made by a master Hat Maker, and many times has to go through many hands from one specialist to another to complete it (special hatband, special stitching, etc.).

Q: Why do the custom made hats on your site tend to be so expensive?

A. To make a reproduction in exact detail takes an enormous amount of research and work to do right. If we were just making our own styles, and we didn’t have to adhere to our customers very demanding and exacting criteria, we could just make the hat any way we want! However, to match every angle, material, shape, color, style, etc., of the hats in our collection, or a hat a customer wants reproduced takes much longer than a regular hat, and as we discussed before, “time” is the big “expense” in custom hats.

Q: Why do some hats take six weeks to make and others only two weeks -- what determines the length of time to custom make a hat?

A. A great deal depends on the availability of the materials. For example, our “Swashbuckler” hats have to be made with very special goat leather. Many times we have to wait for these materials to be shipped before we start a hat. Hats also are made in batches, and if, for example we are making a specific style of hat with a specific kind of material for one of the many productions that come to us, and the hat you ordered fits into this style, then your hat would “added to the work bench”, and we would get it to you sooner. Of course, we also offer a Rush Charge, in which you can get your hat in as little as a week!

Q: Are all your hats ``custom made``, and if so what does that mean? Do you actually make them from scratch?

A. Custom made means that, yes, we make them “from scratch”. That is, we don’t have pre-blocked hats that we just do some shaping and put on a hatband. Each and every hat starts with a natural “body” or “blank”, which is then hand-formed into the hat you have ordered.

Q: Why do you not give refunds on custom hats?

A. For the very same reason that tailors and bootmakers don’t give refunds on their custom made suits, shirts and footwear. Unlike “off-the-shelf” merchandise that can easily put back in the store and sold again, custom hats cannot be easily resold. Therefore, we will work the hat until you are satisfied; however, we cannot offer refunds for the custom hats.

Q: Why in your ``Satisfaction Guarantee`` will you only remake a hat four times?

A. We have found through the years that after four re-workings on a hat, if a customer is not satisfied, they never will be. At that point they just never wanted the hat, and are now trying to find a way to get rid of it! There is no way that you can’t address a person’s concern for a hat after four tries! From that point on, you’re just going in circles like on a merry-go-round! And eventually you gotta get off!

Q: What happens if I get a hat and it doesn't fit right? Can it be sent back to you?

A. Yes, you can send the hat back. If we find that you had given us the wrong hat size, then there may be a charge to correct the problem (depending on how far off you were). If the hat was made in the right size, but you still want it adjusted, then you only have to pay for shipping.

Q: I notice you're one of the only hat shops that carry or can make hats over Size 8. Why does it cost extra to make these hats, and can you make them for any style hat?

A. Yes, we specialize in oversize hats, and have made them up to size 17 (for Ted Cassidy and Richard Kiel). It cost more, since we have to make a special “block” for that size. The good news is that once we make a block for you for a specific hat, then we can make any additional hats for you at our regular price. Most oversize hats (especially Top Hats) are difficult to block and require extra labor.


Q: The brims and crown sizes are very specific for the custom hats. If I wanted a different size brim or crown can that be done, and how would I order that?

A. Simply e-mail us with your specifications. In virtually all cases we can make the hat with any brim or crown size you would like (the crown size could be a problem if they are too extreme, since we would need to have an existing block on hand to form it.

Q: Can you email me photos of my custom hat for approval prior to shipping it?

A. Yes, simply request it. In many cases, we send photos anyway, just to assure that you’re happy with your hat. Much easier to fix a hat first rather than ship it out, and have to wait for it to come back for adjustments.


Q: My head is in between two hat sizes. Which size should I choose? Can you make the hat to my exact head dimensions?

A. There are two options after your size. They are “tight” and “plus”. If you feel you are slightly below two sizes then it’s “tight”, and if your are slightly over two sizes then it’s a “plus”.

Q: What are the differences between a regular and a long oval hat size?

A. Simply all heads are either “oval” shaped or “round” shaped. Knowing which you are helps us make the hat fit even better. Please visit our “Oval Head Shape” page. You can see the difference.


ovalani ovalani

Hat Care

Q: If a hat of mine gets wet what's the best way to dry it?

A. The best way is to fold the sweat band out, so it forms its own “stand”, then allow the hat to “sit” on the “stand”, and let it dry naturally in the air.

Q: Should I keep my hat in the special box it comes in from your shop, and is it better to get a different type of hatbox?

A. The boxes we ship the hats in are custom made for us, and are specially designed to also be used as your hat box.



Q: How can I reshape my felt hat myself (at my own risk!) should I wish to modify or adjust the brim and crown?

A. In most cases we do not advise this. But yes, you can wave it carefully over steam from a kettle on the stove to self-mold it. However, again, do this at your own risk!

Q: Can you repair and/or clean hats that are not made by you?

A. Yes, we are an equal opportunity clean and block company! Bring/send us most hats from anywhere, and we’ll be happy to spruce them up.

Q: What's the best way to store a hat so it lasts the longest?

A. Felt hats should be stored in their own hatbox with cedar chips or shavings in the box to keep moths out of them. DO NOT USE MOTH BALLS! Straw hats can retain their moisture by putting some orange peel, wrapped in cheese cloth in the box. Yes, all your hats, when not in use, should be stored in a tightly sealed box! For more information, go to our “Care and feeding of your hat” section on our website.


Q: Some of your hats come with ``stampede strings``. What exactly are those?

A. Usually made of woven horsehair or leather, they are the adjustable “under chin” strings, attached to the hat, that keep it on your head. They are called “stampede strings”, because without it, during a cattle stampede, a cowboy’s hat would end up flying off and being trampled by the cattle.


Q: What is a ``pencil roll?``

A. Also sometimes called a “Kettle” curl, the brim is “curled” upward folding over itself. There are various theories about how it’s called a “Pencil Roll” including some who say old fashion “thick” style lead pencils were used to roll the brim and create the shape.

Others have said it’s because those who wore the hats with the roll usually worked in jobs that used writing instruments (book keepers, bankers, etc.), and they would put their pencils under the roll! Today there are special machines to create pencil rolls, or they are created by hand using a special shaping iron. Pencil rolls can be found on many hats including Derbies and Classic Top Hats.



Q: Some of your hats have an ``aging`` option. What is that exactly?

A. Aging is special process we’ve developed and refined over the years that makes our fur hats look and feel like they’ve been worn and worked in the great outdoors.

Q: Can any hat that I order be aged? Do the aging affect the material of the hat? What if I just want a hat aged a little; are there degrees to how much a hat can be aged? And how do you age a hat to make it look like it's been worn for years and years?

A. Every hatter has their own “secret recipe” for aging hats, and just like a BBQ boss who won’t give out his recipe for his sauce, we keep our techniques secret. However, a professionally aged hat will not affect the integrity of the hat or the furs or other materials. You can have most hats aged from just a little to extreme (like John Wayne’s hat in Rio Bravo, including the hole in the crown!)

Q: What is hat sizing or hat stiffener?

A. It’s a type of stiffening agent used to make hats more rigid.

Q: The Dylan style cowboy hat is called a ``West Texas`` Style. What is that?

A. A “West Texas” means that the side brims of the hat are both bent up against the crown. There are many stories about why that is a West Texas brim. My favorite explanation is that the rich cowboy has a brim bent hard on the left side, since he’s the one driving the truck, and the dumb cowboy has a brim bent on the right side, since he’s sitting next to the passenger door, and has to keep getting out to open and close the gates… and the smart cowboy, the one from West Texas sits in the middle, thus his brim is bent on both sides, and he just sits there while everyone else does all the work!



Q: One of the most popular of hats is the Fedora. Where did it get its name?

A. One of our favorite explanations of how the Fedora got its name is the story that says it comes from “Fédora,” a popular play by Victorien Sardou (1831-1908) that opened in 1882. In it, the heroine, a Russian princess named Fédora Romanoff, was originally performed by Sarah Bernhardt. During the play, Bernhardt, a notorious cross-dresser, wore a center-creased, soft brimmed hat. Women’s Rights activists adopted the fashion. Men began to wear them with city clothes after 1924, led by Britain’s Prince Edward (Edward VIII), the most influential man of fashion in his day. The word is Greek, and actually means “gift of God”!

Q: When did hats start to be made from Rabbit or Beaver fur?

A. Since 80% of your heat escapes from your head, We’re sure it didn’t take long for primitive man to realize that putting an animal fur on their head kept them warm! However there is a very nice story, or rather a Legend, which says that the making of hats from fur felt is a very ancient technique, even older than weaving. There’s an old Legend that relates to the Bible and Noah’s Ark: It is said that the morning after the flood had subsided, on the floor of his Ark, Noah was surprised to discover a natural carpet of felt, made out of all of the animals’ hair that had been trampled on during 40 days and 40 nights and thus the “processed” fur felt body to make hats was born!