It all started in 2007 when we lived in Ecuador and fell in love with the beautiful craft of Panama hats. Since opening stores in France, Japan, Hawaii & Australia, we have mastered the art of the Panama. Taken this art further than any before us, and incited a global renaissance of Panama hats
If you want a beautiful summer hat, you're in the right place.
They are only made in Ecuador, specifically around Montechristi on the coast, and around Cuenca in the mountains.
Inferior versions, often using the same straw, are woven in Columbia, Peru, Bolivia and Mexico. They may appear similar, but they are by definition not a Panama hat. In our modern age, any white hat is called a Panama, whether they are made of plastic, paper or felt.
This week a lady contacted me, saddened by the quality of the Panama she ordered on Amazon. When I saw the photos, I explained it was a paper hat from China and that she had been tricked. After looking all over the world she ordered the Creme Brûlée - she will love it.
When you roll and fold a Panama there is always some breakage of the palm fibres it is made from. If your hat is warm, moist and supple then it will be minimal, but in the long run your hat will crack and be disfigured.
If you have a Montechriti fino like below, in the traditional centre crease Optimo shape, then your chances are greatly improved. However most people dont like the look of the centre crease (it is a bit odd), and dont want to spend $500+ on a fancy hat that will end up being broken.
In the old days people did roll them, but only in an emergency, because they will always make your hat look wonky. Usually these hats had no hat band, or just a simple thin ribbon. They also bought them for a lot less than we do today, so just didnt mind when they broke. Often you will see photos of the Optimo crown looking pristine and crisp - thats because they have never been rolled.
Manufacturers make a rollable hat using different techniques :
* The super-bleached rubbery panama. This one feels like plastic and is surprisingly flexible, though it tends to look cheap and rubbery. They will roll for a while and usually crack through the crown.
* Twisted weave open crown Panamas. These will roll reliably for a good time, but they dont look very nice and feel cheap.
* Dishonesty. This is the most common solution, Sell people a hat that will roll for a while, and dont worry if it looks like crap on their head and will break. People come into our store all the time lamenting the tourist Panama that cracked.
It is a big part of the lore of Panama hats that they can be rolled, and while it is actually true, it just isn't a good idea in the long run. It is usually a trick. As a Panama specialist I have been very keen to work this out - it just does not work well enough to be done. I would feel bad selling them.
A better solution is learning how to pack them, or choosing hats that can be crushed. Check out the video below:
A gentleman called from Singapore today, desperate to clean his fino Panama that he had spilt a cup coffee into. Accidents happen, stains appear and they can be solved relatively easily - read on.
The most common question I get is how to get sweat stains out. Because a panama is porous, anything mixed with sweat will go into the fibres and lodge in your hat. If you wear makeup, sunscreen and hair products they will colour the area around the band. For the same reason it is so cool to wear, it will also stain.
Getting these stains out can be done. Follow these steps :
1. Brush your hat to get out any loose dirt
2. Wash the stained area with soap and water
3. Wipe off the moisture with a clean cloth
4. Apply gel bleach or diluted hydrogen peroxide to the area and let it sit for the recomended time. Placing it in the sun can speed this process up
5. When it looks good - clean off the bleach with warm water, pat it dry and let it dry naturally.
For spot stains elsewhere on the hat, using the gel bleach works a treat.
If your hat gets dusty and dirty, it is time to give it a brush. Any brush will do, but I prefer a stiff bristled kitchen brush with nylon bristles. The idea is for the bristles to reach into the texture of the weave and flick out the dust particles. If your hat is very soft, then be gentle. Stiffer hats dont mind so much.
Work your way around the hat and you will be amazed at how much it improves the appearance. For mud, use a little dish soap and brush the stains out. Pat dry with a clean cloth.
COFFEE, WINE & LIQUIDS
The trick with these stains is to wash them out quickly before the staining sets. Your hat is already wet, so wet it more and pat with a dry cloth or paper towel. Adding a little detergent wont hurt, but you might need to check if it is an unusual liquid. I find 1 tablespoon each of dish soap and vingear is very effective. Remember to use clean white cloths/towels to ensure no colours transfer.
Red wine can be difficult, and I would recomend a hydrogen peroxide dilution to solve that problem. The wine will soak into the fibres and run along them, so you will need to be patient.
STAINS ON RIBBONS
Typically your ribbons will be made of polyester so they can be cleaned with diluted dish soap and water. Pat them dry and everything will look like new.
MOULD & MOLD
Now this can be tricky. Once the mould is alive in the hat fibres it can spread like crazy. It is very rare, but it does happen, particularly in the tropics where it is a common problem in houses. When your hat is stored wet from wearing, and the right fungus has found a home, it will destroy your hat.
First off you need to kill the fungus - spraying it with vinegar is a good start. Give it a light mist and let it soak in for several hours. Then pat it down to remove the vinegar. If that doesn't work, you may need to use professional mould treatments. Be aware, that your hat contacts your skin, and those nasty chemicals should be treated as such - rinse and remove them carefully.
Once the mould is stopped, you will need to use a hydrogen peroxide dilution to get the black stains out. This may not work, depending on how bad it is. Try it on a small area to see first.
Your Panama is very much like linen in terms of its texture, qualities and behaviour. If you are unsure what to do for an unusual stain, then look up linen! Like all stains, you may need to do a little research to solve your problem.
Every once in a while your Panama will need a tune-up. Or perhaps there has been a hat tragedy, and it needs some serious care to make it right. If you take your time and be gentle, you can heal your hat and learn a new skill.
In 2011 we moved into an old cork factory, filled our warehouse, made our home and opened our new store in Saint Tropez. Atticus loved running through the laneways, following the scent of freshly cooked croissants and chasing the pidgeons - squeeling with laughter.
I first met Chuck lurking at a street market in the South of France. A very handsome fellow with a joyous smile and mostly armless. He jumped in my backpack and has travelled round the world with us ever since.
For thirteen years we have chased the sun, having summer in Australia then Europe, Hawaii & Japan for the Northern warm days. Staying in the most beautiful places in the world, living as locals and running our hat stores. But home, is where my heart is.