Keeping your Cool

Perfect for deflecting the hot summer sun while letting the breeze cool your head, the Panama Hat has become a classic worldwide. One of my personal favorite summer accessories, its quality lies in the materials used, the weave count as well as the nimble hands of the craftsmen making them.

Originally from Ecuador, the name Panamá comes from the height of the Califonia Gold Rush in the 1850s. Many people passed through Panama and bought their hats on their way to or from searching for gold. The best Panama Hats are still hand woven from toquilla straw, which only grows in the coastal mountains of Ecuador. Most of the weaving is done in Cuenca — whose hats can be found in high end millinery houses around the world — and Montecristi. The latter city is where the hats are made in a truly artisan fashion — it is the Bordeaux of Panama Hats.

Their history goes back many years — evidence points that probably a few thousands years. Making a Panama hat is an extremely laborious process — it can take a weaver anywhere from a few weeks to several months to complete a hat.

Although hat wearing fell out of style after WWII, it is now living a renaissance. The industry that nearly fell into obscurity about half a century ago is now able to maintain and attract new artisans, with programs dedicated to training young locals.

Companies like the Brent Black Panama Hat Company are keeping the industry alive and well by bringing them to the high-end marketplace. Simon Espinal is considered the best weaver alive, having completed a hat worth $100,000. They are also sponsoring one of the said programs which will ensure a continuity in the high-end version of the hats.

The following are photographs of the Panama Hat making process in Montecristi, Ecuador. All photographs taken by B. Brent Black — many are of Simon Espinal weaving his magic into hats.

If you want to read all about the process — it is long, interesting and beautiful — you can do so here.

You can read a short description of the photos when you scroll over them, but I liked letting the beautiful photographs of the process speak for themselves. This is one the finished products, the finest Fedora:

There are also fine, yet more affordable versions of the hat — such as the one I’m wearing on the top picture. Mine is from Ecuador, but probably from Cuenca, as I got it for about $70.

Below, a very contemporary and feminine take on the Panama fedora by Eugenia Kim. I like how the band curves around the hat, giving the graphic feeling of a feather. Next to it, the classic Marlene Dietrich, who revolutionized the fashion world with her masculinization of the woman’s wardrobe — making fedoras a woman’s accessory.

I am looking forward to dusting off my Panama Hat and taking it for a spin around the island’s beaches. Oh, one thing I was told by a Panama Hat maker to keep in mind is to never fold a true Panama Hat — the straw is very malleable and gets bent out of shape, and gets progressively brittle as it ages. Another good tip to keep in mind to recover your hat’s original shape, if for any reason it loses its form, is to steam it over boiling water while shaping it up with your hands. If you need to reshape the brim you can iron it as long as you protect it using a cloth in between.

If you don’t have a Panama Hat yet, consider getting one, they last close to a lifetime. If you have one… enjoy your cool head!

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4 Responses to Keeping your Cool

  1. Charlotte Fortunet says:

    Bini chic For ever ! On adore !
    Mille mercis pour ces photos magnifiques et ces savoir-faire remis au goût du jour.
    Une belle illustration de Tradition et de Modernité !
    Bravo !

  2. Mary Robertson says:

    What an amazing history of what is suddenly a quite trendy item! Marvelous photos! Bravo.

  3. I love this post, keep coming back to see it.

    Love the blog, it’s beautiful, calm and tastefull.
    I can feel the fabrics and atmosphere through the screen….:)

    Kind regards, Daniella

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