Owning a fine Panama hat, or any fine straw hat, is akin to owning a Damascus steel chef knife or perhaps Italian leather shoes. While, yes, they look and perform significantly better than their counterparts, they do require more maintenance to care and maintain. Where fine leather shoes need polishing and conditioning, fine straw also needs cleaning and conditioning. To make your hat last as long as possible, follow these tips.

No Pinching

pinched hat
Pinching your crown will make your hat end up like this…or worse, cracked

Whenever handling your hat it’s best to always grab your hat by the brim. The front of the crown, where it is usually indented, is actually the most fragile area of a hat. The majority of restoration projects we take on involved cracked crowns specifically from frequent pinching and little conditioning. However, pinching isn’t the only culprit—leaving your hat on hat racks, the ballpoint pole kind, for extended periods of time (months) can also damage your crown from the inside out. This takes us to the next tip: storage!

Use Hatboxes Whenever Possible

Hat boxes are the best way to store your hats.

That is if you have a proper hatbox for your hat. A good hatbox will have three main features: first, it must be properly sized and protect the shape of the brim. Second, the crown must be protected. A good hatbox should be able to stack with other boxes without compressing the crown of the hat. Third, the more airtight and opaque the better. Believe it or not, Panama hats are made up of organic fibers, and like most organic material it gets damaged in the sun from the UV rays. In terms of straw fiber, this means the hat dries out and becomes more susceptible to cracking. Near the window in the back of your car is pretty much the worst place to leave your hat.

Moisturize and Condition

moisturize
Panama hat being cleaned and conditioned with Paul Lashon RTU Foam

Toquilla straw, the material used for most Panama hats, is similar to leather in the sense that it will last and remain flexible for an incredible amount of time but only if you maintain and condition it. If you live in an area with high humidity, you don’t have to worry about this as much. But if you live in a dry area, you should frequently condition your hat. If you haven’t found a good conditioner made specifically for straw, you can use a damp microfiber cloth or baby wipe to keep your hat from drying out as a temporary fix. Beware of over-conditioning your hat. A hat that is too wet can permanently warp.

Don’t Get Your Hat Wet

To untreated hats, rain can often warp the straw. Luckily, this hat has been treated with water repellent.

If your straw hat is still visibly wet, wipe off the extra water with a clean and dry cloth. Paper towels will also work. The best thing to do next is to turn out the sweatband and let it dry slowly. A cool, dry spot with good airflow is ideal. Some customers report that leaving your hat next to an open window away from direct sunlight seems to work particularly well. But any cool spot with good air circulation to all parts of the hat will work. You should never use a hair dryer to dry a wet hat as this will damage the hat and could cause it to warp from drying too quickly. Water repellent treatments are available for straw hats, but even then rain showers should always be avoided. Need more details on saving your soaked but beloved hat? Read this article.

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