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The Panama Hat: A Timeless Fashion Statement

Photo: NYTimes, August 7, 2008

The Panama hat continues to be a fashion favorite around the world.

Vanity Fair Magazine has just published its 2008 International Best-Dressed List and Heinrich Furstenberg, one of the winners, looks dapper in his Panama hat, which is blocked in the Havana style.

H.S.H. PRINCE HEINRICH VON UND ZU FÜRSTENBERG, 58-year-old German entrepreneur who resides near the Black Forest, in Germany, describes his style as, “very personal, timeless,” and reports that his favorite clothing purchase of 2008 is, “a Panama hat from Ecuador.”

Gary loves Panama hats. His dream has long been to have a Panama hat shop in Ecuador, ever since we first visited some of Cuenca’s fine Panama hat factories and showrooms. We will include a visit to one of the hat factories on our August 21, 2008, Intro to Ecuador Tour.

Panama hats in the Montecristi area are made from the fronds of the toquilla, a tall palm-like plant. The fronds are split lengthwise by hand; the thinner the fibers, the finer the weave of the hat can be. Ecuadorian indigenous once made an incredibly fine linen-like fabric from these almost microscopic fibers.

The fibers are next boiled for hours, washed and dried in the sun, sorted for fineness and color, then sold to hat weavers in bundles. The hat weavers work with fibers that can be as tiny as 1-2 mm thick. Work is by hand, weaving in concentric circles called vueltas. A fine hat can have up to 18 vueltas.

Hats are meticulously hand-finished in a process called, “back-weaving,” an art in itself, which tucks in all loose ends to prevent fraying. Then the hat is pounded with a mallet for symmetry, rotated in burning sulphur fumes to give it an ivory color or in liquid oxygen to make it white.

After further ironing, brushing and blocking to form its shape and style, the hat is banded inside with leather, a hand-made grosgrain ribbon is added and the hat is ready to wear.

A Panama hat makes just about anybody look stylish. Fashionistas, whether men or women, know this. That’s why they are willing to pay $1000 and more for a fine Panama, which can take 4-5 months to make.


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