Welcome to Everyday Refinement. Here I write about dressing well, but sensibly. Where beauty and utility inspire authentic style and a better wardrobe.

Top Off Summer's Perfect Pairings

Top Off Summer's Perfect Pairings

The type of hat a woman choses to wear and the way she wears the hat can bring a stylistic advantage to any summer ensemble.

What happened to wearing a hat? Only a few decades ago there would have been very few women bold enough to go sans her hat into the public square. A woman’s hat was as much a signature accessory and outfit fundamental as was her choice of handbag or shoes. Today, the hat is an optional accessory — a woman can take it or leave it!

Personally, my preference is for the camp or the team that takes it. No accessory completes and elevates my summer outfit on a sun-drenched day as does the classic Panama hat. Whether it’s a day at the beach, a backyard barbecue, an afternoon poolside, a summer get-away, or an iced coffee at a favorite cafe in the city, my Panama hat provides protection from the sweltering summer heat and adds a stylish finishing detail to my overall ensemble. The classic Panama can furnish both beauty and utility. In utility, the Panama protects the face, eyes, and skin from the harsh elements of a summer day. As for beauty, the Panama brings several style advantages to the wearer by finishing the simplest of warm-weather looks and enhancing the appearance.

First, let’s clarify that the Panama is a type of hat rather than a style of hat. Unfortunately, the name Panama hat is a misnomer. The Panama hat was launched into the fashion spotlight when then President Theodore Roosevelt was seen sporting a straw hat during his visit to Panama to inspect the construction of the canal. Thus the surname “Panama” became forevermore associated with the hat. However, contrary to the hat’s name, these hats are and have always been made by Ecuadorian artisans.

Hand-Crafting a Panama Hat

The making of a Panama hat is a painstaking process. The hat making tradition has been passed down from generation to generation. Although, some simple tools and equipment are used during production, most of the hat making process is still done by hand.

The tropical forest of costal Ecuador is source to the toquilla palm. The fibrous material found inside the unopened new leaf shoots of the palm is the vital ingredient in the making of the Panama hat. (Pickers of the toquilla plant practice sustainable harvesting by removing only a few shoots from every palm. This ensures the palm continues to grow and thrive). After harvesting the shoots, the next step of the hat making process is to separate the outer and tougher segments of the toquilla palm from the tender, inner parts. After separation the shoots or “tallos” are boiled in water and hung to dry. This process causes the tallos to dry into straw rather than wither. The toquilla straw turns to a pale yellow color during the drying process. Some of the straw will be weaved as-is, but much undergoes a bleaching process to create a colorless straw for white Panama hats.

Now, the toquilla straw is ready for the weaver. Weavers are among the most skilled artisans in the Panama hat making process. The weaver begins by forming the top of the Panama hat called the “plantilla” by hand. After weaving the plantilla the weaver then places it on a special stand to form the crown and brim. This process can take one to three months depending on the skill level of the weaver. When the weaver finishes the brim length there is still a spray of straw around its circumference. The weaver does not finish the hat brim, but rather sends the hat to another artisan to finish. This artisan will weave each piece of straw around the brim back toward the hat to create a polished, uniform edge.

Panama hat weaving

Panama hat weaving

Once the tightening of the brim is completed, the hat is passed yet to another artisan to trim the loose ends of straw. Afterwards, the hat is washed and bleached before it is beaten with a mallet-like wooden tool to soften the straw, as well as, lighten the color. In the final stages of the hat making process, the hat’s crown and brim are ironed to make it crisp and remove any wrinkles. Only then is the hat ready for formation into different shapes — a classic Panama, a fedora, a beach, or garden hat.

I recognize, that I have gone into a lengthy description of the Panama hat making process. However, the labor intensive process of making a fine Panama hat provides a better understanding of the value behind the price. The time that it takes from start to finish, as well as, the tightness and finesse of the weave, factor into the quality and cost of a Panama hat.

Finding the Correct Size

If the Panama is to become an essential accessory to the summer wardrobe, how do you choose the correct size and shape? More or less, the choice of hat shapes boils down to the width of the brim, the height of the crown, and the details. The shape aspect is both a matter of personal physiognomy and a sense of style. Choosing the right style of hat requires a bit of experimentation, as well as, familiarity with your individual proportions. Generally, a hat with a smaller brim and/or crown complements the face/frame of a woman with delicate features. Whereas, a hat with a higher crown or wider brim may complement the individual of more prominent facial and frame features.

Fitting the head for the correct hat size is key. If the hat is too large, it will blow off the head. If it is too small, it can leave impressions on the forehead and possibly cause a headache. Measure your hat size by taking a tailor’s tape measure (a string and ruler can suffice) to get a precise hat measurement — measure from the widest part at the back of the head, bringing the ends together at the center of the forehead. Make certain the tape measure is slightly above the ears. Hold the tape measure firmly but snugly — It may be helpful to repeat these steps a couple of times to ensure accuracy. Compare the measurement of your head with a hat size chart. If the head measurement should fall between sizes, choose the larger size, Generally, a slightly larger size is more comfortable than one that is smaller and tighter. Keep in mind there can be slight variances in hat sizes, especially in the styles of hats that are handcrafted.

How To Wear

There is barely a summer outfit that I cannot and do not pair my Panama hat, as well as, a summer occasion that my Panama hat is not a suitable accessory. The versatility of a Panama hat gives me the option to elevate the style factor of almost any summer outfit while protecting my head and face from the sweltering sun. It works equally at the beach or in the city, at a summer wedding or the farmer’s market, and for mornings in the garden or an afternoon luncheon. The surest method to ensure you’ll get a return on the investment of your favorite seasonal accessory is to determine your perfect pairings: denim, tee, and slides or linen trouser, silk tank, and huaraches, silk slip dress and thong sandals or a cotton-linen knit top, cutoff shorts, and sneakers. Top-off perfect pairings and see for yourself the difference this definitive summer accessory can make.

My Summer Perfect Pairings & the Panama hat

My Summer Perfect Pairings & the Panama hat

Adding a Panama hat to your warm-weather wardrobe is a foolproof piece to chase away outfit fatigue and refresh your indispensable summer classics. Embrace the timeless functionality and versatile simplicity underneath the brim of a best-loved hat.

Please note that I do not receive any form of compensation for the brands that are mentioned and represented in this article.

Panama hat weaving image by hbeiser from Pixaby

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