Panama Hat

Consider the Panama Hat.

It’s the perfect tropical accomplice, a mesh of finely woven straw designed to protect you from the sun without interfering with any nearby breezes. Obsessives have been known to drop up to 35 grand for the perfect one, but just finding it takes a good deal of legwork. Luckily, we’re here to help.

The most important thing is where your hat was made. The best ones come from Ecuador (the “Panama” thing is a misnomer from the canal-building days), either Cuenca or Monticristi. By definition, Panama Hats are woven by hand from toquilla straw, which only grows in the coastal mountains of Ecuador—so most of the weaving happens in Cuenca, the most accessible city in the mountain region. If you find a Panama in a European millinery house like Borsalino or Lock & Co., it was most likely woven in Cuenca.

Monticristi, on the other hand, is where the artisanal magic happens…and where you’ll find yourself paying enough money to buy a car. It’s home to a dozen or so master weavers, each of whom can spend weeks or even months on perfecting a single hat. Our pick from the high end is Simon Espinal (you can find him through Brent Black), who wove together that $35,000 model we mentioned earlier.

One more perk of a top-shelf hat: If you get one in the Optimo shape, you’ll be able to roll it up. That means you can stow the hat in a slim box for your flight to the tropics and pop it seamlessly back into shape the moment you leave the airport. Granted, it will have a less-than-crisp look the next time you wear it (and after 20 years, the wear can add up), but we’ve never shied away from a little wear and tear.

And if you wanted to tuck a few feathers into the ribbon, we wouldn’t complain.

—N.B.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Najib Benouar