How to Buy a Panama Hat - The Hat Buying Guide : The definitive guide to choosing the perfect Panama hat. Size, grading, brims, fit, styling, quality and function.
How to Buy a Panama Hat - The Hat Buying Guide
The definitive guide to choosing the perfect Panama hat. Size, grading, brims, fit, styling, quality and function.
Finding a Panama specialist in your city is extremely 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. So you need to take the plunge and look online - this guide is all about empowering you to do this well.
GET YOUR SIZE RIGHT - HOW TO MAKE A HAT FIT PERFECTLY
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. What no-one will tell you is that ALL Panama hats will shrink. How much they shrink depends on how you wear and care for it. Panama hats are porous and wick moisture away from your head, evaporating it and cooling you down. When you take your hat off it will dry out, and in the process shrink a little. It may take a year, but it will shrink.
Ideally, you order a hat 1cm bigger than your actual size and insert a spacer to make it fit well until it shrinks. If you are likely to get very sweaty, then allow 2cm. 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 - unpleasant!
Measuring your head is simple. Place 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.
CHOOSE A REAL HATMAKER - IT IS A VERY SPECIALISED CRAFT
Most of the online sellers are just shipping product - they have never fitted or worked with Panama hats. They obviously don't even wear one, let alone understand how to style and finish them. The style of the hat is the most important thing. It is like the cut of a suit, the lines of a dress or Italian shoes. To make stylish hats, you need to have style.
As designers, we know what works - getting the crown, brim and quality just right so that it looks good every time you wear it. Our hats are engineered to hold their shape, breath properly and last a long time.
GRADING & QUALITY
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.
Every manufacturer has a different grading system. One company's grade 8, is anothers grade 4. There is no consistency in how they are graded, and comparison online is very confusing. If someone is offering a grade 8 for less than $400, then it is a trick. With handwoven hats, you get what you pay for - there are few bargains and no short cuts. Buy from a reputable hatmaker.
There is an enormous variety of weaves in the Panama hat world. Some like the Crochet Panama are extremely durable, and some like the Brisa are fine and delicate. Here is a short video on the different types of weaves, their strengths and weaknesses.
THE TRUTH ABOUT ROLLABLE PANAMAS
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 is a bad idea. 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.
For women, the Truffaux Riviera, Provencale and Tiara are an unblocked crown and can be rolled and crushed. Some of the robust weaves like the crochet in the Caribbean & the Metropolitan are made to survive anything. Otherwise, If you are incredibly wealthy, or just like broken hats then sure, you can roll a Panama.
THE GREAT SWEATBAND DEBATE
Panama hats are frequently lined with a reeded leather sweatband. When you wear one, you sweat a lot, and it leaves a red mark across your forehead. They look & smell great, but it will shrink and hurt you. I much prefer a grosgrain ribbon, which passes your sweat into the hat and is soft on your skin. It never shrinks and will leave your hair smooth and unruffled. It is also easy to wash in soap and water. Traditionalists may scoff at my lack of authenticity, but I make hats to wear.
CHOOSING YOUR BRIM WIDTH & PRACTICALITY
Short brims (trilbys) are comfortable to wear, don't blow off in the wind and you can keep them on your head when you are driving, sitting, dancing or jogging. They are confident, cheeky and light-hearted. Wide brims (fedoras) are more elegant and give a more sun protection, especially on your neck. You feel dressed and elegantly framed. Super wide brims are more for style or extreme sun protection. Unfortunately, they also blow off easily.
One of the reasons I am a hatmaker is that I am fair and can't wear sunscreen on my face. I regularly walk in my forest, and at the beach and even with a 4.5cm short brim I never get burned. Ninety per cent of ageing is caused by the sun (EPA, 2012). It is no surprise that a lot of people want a wide-brimmed hat to ward off the ravages of age, skin cancer and painful burns. Avoiding sunscreen is also a good idea, and a hat is the best way to do so. If you think about it, hats have been caring for our skin for thousands of years, and there is a lot of debate as to the safety of sunscreens.
As your brim gets bigger, so does the parachute effect of the wind upon your hat. Any brim wider than 7cm will need a chin strap at the beach. Plus, you can't wear it in your car, and you will take it off when you are inside. Which means it gets lost, crushed, left in taxis, soaked at the bar or some cretin steals it. If you can keep your hat on, it will last forever - and so will your skin.
FINDING THE HAT THAT SUITS YOU
Your hat needs to match your face shape and your build. There are four basic types 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. The one basic rule is that the width of the top of the hat (the crown) should mirror your jaw. If you have a big square jaw, then get a big square hat. If your face is heart-shaped, then a soft centre dent crown like the Casablanca will suit. If your face is long, choose a taller hat and so on. If your face is oval, then you can wear anything.
Buying a hat that suits you is much more important than the fineness of the weave or anything else. If you are unsure, then send me a photo. I love fitting hats, and when I see you, I will know what will work.
HOW TO RECOGNISE A GENUINE PANAMA?
Often people will visit our stores wearing a paper or plastic hat, saddened they bought a fake Panama. Most of the Panamas online are either 'paper straw' or 'polypropylene'. While the paper hats breathe, they also fall apart if you sweat in them. The polypropylene (plastic) hats are the worst. They will last for thousands of years, but it's 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. Sometimes the hats will be hot iron branded inside the crown as proof of origin, but not always.
To most of the world, a Panama is just a style of white hat. Everyone is calling their hat a Panama, which makes things a bit tricky. Work with a reputable hatmaker, and you won't have to worry. For a magnificent read have a look at a Glimpse inside The Workshops of the Worlds Finest Panama Hatmakers from the New York Times.
IS IT WORTH THE EFFORT TO BUY A REAL PANAMA?
If you want a hat that feels luxurious to wear, garners many compliments and makes you look beautiful, then yes. If you have seen people walking around looking stunning, they are not wearing a plastic hat from the local drug store. They are wearing a real hat. If it is just a throwaway holiday purchase, then choose natural materials such as cotton, bamboo & raffia.
Panama hats are the fruit of the Earth, crafted by Ecuadorian artisans, and 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, that we obsessively design and style better than anyone on Earth.
If you are keen to have some help, then join us for an online fitting and we can answer all your questions, and work out the best hat for you