In the eyes of a hat savant, a Panama hat is not just becoming due to its highly intricate weaving pattern, but also for the cultural heritage that it carries – a weaving tradition that has been passed down for centuries in the remote hamlets of Ecuador. As with most hand-woven artifacts, Panama hats require some care, it is critical to understand the nuances of caring for one to make sure it lasts forever.  

weaving
The edge of an unfinished Panama hat.

A genuine Panama hat is hand-woven and is made from toquilla straw with the process of making one being long-drawn and taking months to finish. The exercise starts with selecting the right palm foliage, which is then boiled and dried in the tropical winds – all the while making sure the straw is not directly exposed to the sun. It then goes through bleaching, washing and drying to attain an even whitish tone, after which the straw is bundled up and sent to the weaving villages. A master weaver working on the straw would take anywhere between one to three months, depending on his skill and the size of the hat.

This explains the relatively higher costs associated with buying a Panama hat, and the need for caring for one, unlike a cheaper hat variant. The Panama hat has to be treated gently to keep the straw matrix intact, which when unwound could give the hat a frayed appearance, making it very hard to fix.

The following are a few pointers to caring for your Panama hat, which could save you a whole lot of trouble with any accidental damage.

Wearing Your Hat

Panama hats trace their roots to Ecuador, a South American country through which the Equator runs (hence the name). This makes it a hot tropical country and the hats as an extension, protect you from it. But then again, the Panama hat is not a proper accessory when you are out in the rain.

Dry your hat upside down and with the brim in it’s desired shape.

If drenched, the hat needs to be dried out with care – under the sun but not in direct sun and without applying artificial heat as it could wilt the straw and change its color. When you dry it out, make sure to store it in the correct shape, so it doesn’t dry out in an irregular or different shape than it originally was.

Maintaining Your Hat

Use a horsehair brush to clean dirt and dust from your hat.

Maintaining your Panama hat requires it to be brushed periodically to retain its appearance. Use a soft whisk brush such as a horsehair brush to remove dust from your hat. Brushing your hat prevents dirt from settling down into the fibers, which can permanently darken the appearance of your Panama hat over time. Clean your hat once a week to avoid permanent staining.

Always grab your hat by the brim and not by the crown.

Next, maintain the shape of your Panama hat by being careful of how you pick it up and put it down. When you pick up your hat, use the brim rather than the crown of the hat. When you put it down, put it with the crown facing down to avoid distorting the shape of the brim. If you do need to straighten the brim of your hat, you can iron it on low heat with a cloth between the iron and the hat to prevent the delicate fibers of the hat from burning.

You may iron the brim on low heat to reshape the brim.

Storing Your Hat

Proper storage of your hat can prolong its life and avoid damage to its overall shape and color. A Panama hat needs to be kept in a cool, dark place when you are not wearing it. The straw fibers are sensitive to extreme temperatures, so storing it in places such as the back of the car on a hot day is a bad idea. Extreme heat will cause the fibers to dehydrate and crack, leading to a frayed appearance. If your hat is subjected to hot weather, spraying your hat with water from time to time will prevent the fibers from cracking.

Hat boxes are the best way to store your hats.

When it’s time to take off your Panama hat for the day, place it in its hat box, or on a hat rack, or a block specifically made for storing hats. Hat boxes are the recommend option over all other options. Do note that leaving your hat on a flat surface will cause it to bow in the front and the back.

Storing your hat on a rack is a good alternative to the hat box.

Removing Stains

Stain removal from Panama hats can be tricky without permanently damaging your hat, especially if the stain has soaked into the hat’s fibers. Start out by dipping a cloth in cold water just enough to make it damp and gently rub on the stain along the grain of the hat. This will work best for rudimentary blemishes that crop up on the surface of the fiber. If the stain or dirt is not ingrained in the hat fiber, you can also try using a soft-bristle brush to remove it. Removing stains quickly is crucial as if left late, it could soak into the fiber causing permanent damage.

Hat cleaner design for straw hat stain removal.

One of the more common stains is from sweat. Dark water or sweat stains can be dealt with by a professional cleaner or restoration expert who will use special chemicals and tools to remove deep stains from the fibers. If you are a hands-on DIY fan, you could get straw hat cleaners off the shelves, but it is critical that you follow the instructions labeled.

If your sweatband is wet from sweating, turn it inside out when drying to prevent staining.

To avoid sweat stains, turn the hat inside out when you have a wet sweatband, and rest the hat on the band. Ultrafino does offer restoration services, and if you are interested you could always get a quote by getting in touch with us.

If you are feeling quite adventurous and want to take a shot at cleaning the hat yourself, you will need a mild uncolored soap, a soft cloth, and warm water. First, pour some water into a cup or a bucket and add the soap to it. The soap needs to be undyed to avoid discoloring your hat fiber. Stir the soapy water until it blends without bubbles. Soak the cloth in this mixture and rub along the grain of the hat over the stain till it fades away. Using baby wipes or facial wipes often works just as well, too.

Cleaning wipes designed for straw or baby wipes work well for mild stain removal.

If you spill something tougher on your hat such as juice, oil, or blood, you may need to add a few drops of ammonia to your soapy water. Use gloves so that you do not make skin contact with ammonia and apply the mixture with a brush directly onto the stain. You may need to let it sit for a minute or two for the solution to seep into the stain, before using a soft cloth to rub along the grain until the stain vanishes.

The final step would be dipping a cloth in warm water and caressing the entire hat with it while being mindful of moving the cloth along the grain of the fiber. After this elaborate procedure, let the hat dry somewhere clean and dark. Your hat will be good as new and won’t lose its shape as long as you follow these steps.

Panama hats are an excellent accessory for both men and women, and they come in many different colors, shapes, and styles. Maintenance is key – ensuring that it remains with you for many years, without you needing to hit the stores frequently for a new one every summer.

 

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