The Ultimate Panama

Insist on a Real Panama Hat

It's only April, but I spotted my first Panama hat being worn the other day. The unseasonable weather certainly justified it.

How much longer will we be able to see the genuine article? I was reading recently that the art of weaving Panama hats in Ecuador is in danger from — you guessed it — cheap global competition. The skills required to hand weave and block a traditional Panama hat — justifiably recorded on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage — are at risk because the market has been flooded with inconsiderate lookalikes.

The weaving of straw hats from the toquilla grass is believed to have developed in Ecuador in the 1600s, centred around the town of Montecristi. The name for the Panama hat stuck after their association with the building of the Panama canal.

If you are on the lookout for a Panama, insist on the genuine article, and the finest and most even grade of hat weaving you can find — they are the hardest to make and require the greatest skills of the master weaver; and help do your bit to preserve this important 'soft culture' from the bulldozer of globalization.

The Superfino is generally regarded as a benchmark, though grading and nomenclature in the world of Panama hats is notoriously inconsistent. You need to find a reputable seller and get up close to see the quality of work.

Bates Hats 'Ultrafino'

Bates Hats recently launched their Ultrafino Panama hat as part of London Hat Week, They located a Ecuadorian weaver — who makes only 4-6 hat bodies a year — to supply the finest woven raw body, which Bates will block — or mould — to the size and shape of a customer's bonce.

That's an example at the top, and the photo below shows the mind-numbing level of weaving involved. Imagine the difficulty in keeping such a weave tight and uniform. We can't let such skills die out, can we?


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