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How to buy a Panama hat

How to buy a Panama hat

The definitive guide to buying a Panama hat. Finding a Panama specialist in your city is very unlikely - there are only a few of us. Your local hat store will have a couple of styles, but the choices & quality will be very slim. You need to take the plunge and look online -  this guide will empower you to do this well.



What no-one will tell you is that all Panama hats will shrink. How much they shrink depends on the weave, and how it is used. Thousands of people have walked into our stores wearing a Panama hat that is too small. It is uncomfortable, unflattering and likely to blow down the street. 

Ideally, you order a hat 1cm bigger than your actual size and insert a spacer to make it fit well until it shrinks

Your hat order will ship with a packet of spacers and instructions, ensuring you have a perfect fit. If it is a little large, you can easily adjust it, but small is like tight shoes - uncomfortable.

Measuring your head is easyPlace a string or tape measure around your head above your ears, where you would wear your hat. Please write it down and then measure it again. When you place your order, I will follow up and confirm your sizing - 99% of the time it will be perfect.

how to measure your head - hat size


Any and every hat online is called a Panama, which makes things tricky.

People often visit our stores wearing a paper or plastic hat, heart broken that they bought a fake Panama. Most of the Panamas online are either 'paper straw' or 'polypropylene'. They're like wearing a rubber cap, making you hot, sweaty and very uncomfortable in the sun.

The easiest way to tell if it is a handwoven Panama is to look at the centre of the top. If the straw spirals out like the photo, then it is the real deal. If it is square, then it is not a Panama. 



The world is full of cheap tourist Panama hats. When you look around online, they will pop up everywhere and seem like a great deal, but these are the hats to avoid. They won't last long, their quality will be terrible and they will look crappy very fast. Like most things, you get what you pay for. 

It is like the cut of a suit, the lines of a dress or quality shoes. There is complex engineering and design that goes into making a hat look good. Discount shippers from Ecuador don't have style, and don't wear Panama hats. It's like buying a designer suit from Ecuador - your odds of success are very slim.




Weavers split the Panama straw using their long thumbnails. Each time they divide it, the quality of the hat doubles, and so does the time it takes to weave. The longer it takes, the more expensive the hat becomes. Some hats are thread fine and can take a master weaver six months to finish, some take two hours.

Every manufacturer has a different grading system. One company's grade 8, is anothers grade 3. There is no consistency in how they are graded, and comparison online is very confusing. People get fixated on threads per inch, when that is far less important than the consistency, finish or style. A good hat is much more than the grading.

When you see a photo online, you are not often seeing what you are going to get. If they are a discount shipper, you will get what you pay for.

Here is a short video on the types of weaves, their strengths and weaknesses.




When I talk to Ecuadorians about rollable Panama hats, they wince and shrug their shoulders. Though the Panama is famous for being able to rolled and put in your pocket, it cracks the straw, ruins your hat and leaves the brim all wonky. Some manufacturers make them rollable by bleaching them until they are like rubber, but they don't hold an elegant shape. A Montechristi will roll pretty well, but in the end, you will have a broken $1000 hat.



Buying a hat that suits your face, build and lifestyle is far more important than the style, grade or finish. Now this can be a bit tricky if you are new to hats, but you can work this out.


Your hat needs to match your face shape and your build. There are four basic styles of Panama hats, and choosing the right one will make a big difference. A little short brim hat on a big guy looks ridiculous, as does an enormous sun hat on a petite woman.

Choose a hat for your lifestyle. If you get dirty climbing mountains, then choose a tough weave with a natural colour. If you are going to dinner in Paris, then choose something glamorous, flowing and refined. 

The easiest path to find out, is to ask an expert.   

Why would you want to own a Panama?

If you want a hat that is luxurious to wear, garners many compliments and makes you look beautiful then you are looking in the right place. If you have seen people looking great in a hat, they are not wearing a plastic hat from the local drug store. They are wearing a real hat. 

If you run hot, live in a hot place, hike in nature, travel, or have sensitive skin - the Panama is a natural breathable textile that is a great pleasure to wear. They never smell, and nothing will keep you cooler on a hot day than this handwoven artform.

Sure they are more work than a plastic hat but so is a linen shirt, or a good pair of leather shoes. These are real things.

Crafted by Ecuadorian artisans, they make the world a better place. Natural, comfortable, biodegradable and supporting the beautiful people of Ecuador - they are a taste of a long lost art form.

There is an art to wearing a hat, and here is a definitive guide to exploring it.




ask the panama hat guy

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Comments on this post (2)

  • Jun 27, 2022

    Super interesting post!

    — Blair Smith

  • Jun 27, 2022

    I’d like to get your help choosing a Panama hat. I’m not affluent, but I’m fussy and I don’t like badly made junk. I get the impression that most hats aren’t good value—i. e. cheap or over-priced or both. I got the impression from your video that you know and care about hats. That caught my attention.

    — Ken Rasmussen

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