A lot of Panama hats are too small.
It is common for people to walk into our stores wearing a Panama hat that is too small for them. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it looks funny and blows off your head very easily. Unlike shoes, your Panama will shrink, and never stretch without mechanical intervention.
When people are buying a hat, they always want it to fits snugly and feel just right. Unfortunately, that does not allow for the shrinkage that will occur. It is often difficult to convince them that it needs to be a little large to fit in the long run.
It is a little known fact that this is the nature of woven straw hats. Retailers who don't work with Panamas a lot, frequently sell hats that are too small.
Why they shrink was a puzzle for many years, but I worked it out. When you sweat, it absorbs into your hat and cools you down. When you take off your hat, it dries off and shrinks a little bit, like it has been washed. Doing this a hundred times gradually decreases its size.
The problem is worse for larger hats, and particularly XXL heads. When a hat is first woven, it is called a hood (see image above). This hood is then steamed and stretched over a hat block to create the shape and size you want. Most people in Ecuador are little with medium-sized heads, and when they weave these hoods, they tend to weave around that size. To make it an XXL, the hood is stretched much more than for all the other sizes and consequently will have a greater tendency to shrink back to that medium size.
We have several hats in XXXL for very large heads. These are woven specially for us on an XXXL large block and will hold their size.
If you sweat a lot and work in your hats, the shrinkage will also be greater, like it is being washed more often. I love gardening, and that is often very sweaty work, and my garden hats will shrink more than any other.
Some weaves also have a tendency to shrink more. A loose weave brisa hat, is much more likely to shrink than a tight Montichristi. When you place your order, I will take this into account for each hat, ensuring the correct size.
As a hatmaker, I can tell the size of peoples heads just by looking at them. It is one of my favourite games to guess peoples head size, and I really enjoy it. Different races have a predisposition for different sized heads. Generally, Germans have the largest heads, with the Scottish second, and Australians and Americans coming in close behind. Asian heads are shaped differently, being more round and less oval.
Over the past 70 years, heads have increased greatly in size, from an average of 55cm to around 59cm. This mirrors the increase in height and the changes in the foods that we eat. I love vintage hats, but it is very rare to get one that is larger than 59. Often I will buy them from Germany, as they tend to run a lot larger.
At the end of the day, when you buy a hat, work out your size well and add 1cm to make sure it always fits. If you have a big head, or will be sweating a lot, an additional centimetre will not hurt.