Panama Hats for the Discerning Traveler How much do you know about the traveler's cap? Domenico Calerghi
1. Panamas are not actually made in Panama.
YES X NO
authentic Panamas are woven in Ecuador. They are made from the plaited
leaves of a toquilla straw plant, a sort of palm tree. The Panamas are
usually imported directly from Ecuador in their hood form. Then they
are hand-blocked into different shapes in hat factories in the U.S.,
England, or in Italy.
2. These straw hats were named “Panama” when, in 1906, President Teddy
Roosevelt visited the Panama Canal construction and adopted the straw
hat worn by the workers.
YES X NO
Wrong. The conquistadors first call them toquillas, as the hats the
natives were wearing did not have a brim and reminded the Spaniards of
a European hat called a toque. The sombreros of paja toquilla (hats of
toquilla straw)—sometimes called Jipijapa from an Ecuadorian town where
they were made—were shipped to Europe from Panama as most South
American goods were. Just as Cuban cigars became known as Havana cigars
because of their port of shipment, so these straw hats became known as
Panama hats. They are first mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary
in its 1834 edition, and in the first edition of the French Grand
Dictionnaire encyclopédique Larousse in 1863.
3. Nineteenth-century English dandies started the trend of wearing Panamas during hot summer months.
YES NO X
In 1855, a Frenchman living in Ecuador took some sombreros of paja
toquilla to the World Exhibition in Paris. Napoleon III was presented a
fine large-brimmed hat and so the fashion was introduced to the French
court. In fact, not only the Emperor but also the Empress and her
ladies-in-waiting started wearing the straw hats that came from Panama.
European royalty soon followed the Paris fashion. The Prince of Wales
was said to have paid £90 for a fine Panama blocked by Lock on St.
James Street—today’s equivalent of some $15,000. He is said to have
introduced the Panama’s signature black band after the death of his
mother, Queen Victoria, in 1901.
4. One can pay up to $30,000 for a Panama.
YES X NO
Right. There are four categories of Panama hats. —The Regular, usually made in the cities of Cuenca and Canar, can fetch up to $500. —The Fino can be bought for between $500 and $1,000. —The Extra Fino can go for up to $5,000. —There
is no price too high for a Super Fino, woven in Montecristi and blocked
in the U.S. or in Europe. Super Finos, some sold for $30,000, are woven
only in the moonlight or when the sky is overcast. They have a silky
texture and the weave is almost imperceptible. The weaving of such a
hat may take up to four months. When turned upside down, a Super Fino
should hold up to a cup of water; when turned upright again, it must go
back to its original shape.
5. All Panamas can be folded.
YES X NO X
Theoretically, yes. The
classic model, the “only elegant one” says one of my friends, is
sometimes called a Natural. If you roll up an unblocked hat a few
times, it creates a center crease. Blocking the hat with a distinct
center crease will make it easier to roll. Roll your panama, put it in
a tube, and travel anywhere with it.
But the rub is when there is a
leather band. The popular twentieth-century fedora shape of the Panama,
with small or large brim, low or high crown, has a distinctive leather
band. The Panama is the only hat for the on-the-go discerning traveler.
Simply forget about rolling your Stetson, your Lock, or your Borsalino.
I have three Panamas: —A Fino, in a classic fedora shape with a three-inch brim, a five-inch crown, and with a one-and-one-half-inch black ribbon; —a wider brim, plantation-style Fino with a colorful ribbon, perfect for golf in the Caribbean; —and a Natural, which I roll up when I travel. It will not hold water anymore, as there are a few rips in its crown due to the lamentable reason of having been kept in closets too dry or too hot.
I love that hat, though, which I bought after a lucky backgammon game several years ago in London, when a thousand dollars could get you to a
lot of places. My Natural is somewhere between an Extra and a Super
Fino. Sean Connery’s Panama in his 2008 Louis Vuitton ad, looks new
next to mine. I could never part with this hat, and I take this
opportunity to solemnly ask my wife to allow me to be buried with my