Though hats come in different shapes and textures, the material used and the style of weaving is something that influences every connoisseurs’ decision into buying a particular type of hat. In here, we look to explain the 5 most common types of straws that go into giving a hat its unique and distinct flavor.
The most flexible, long-lived fiber is the toquilla fiber, which is generally made into hats in Ecuador. Hats made from the toquilla straw are more popularly known as the Panama hats. These hats are woven in a variety of ways from the plaited fibrous leaves of toquilla palm trees that are native to Ecuador. The tightness, the finesse of the weave, and the time spent in weaving a complete hat out of the toquilla straw characterize its quality.
What results, in the end, are these beautiful light-colored Panama hats. These hats are widely popular as tropical and seaside accessories, accounting for their ease of wear and breathability. If you wish to go for the best quality Panama hats, look no further than the Montecristi Panamas, named after the region in Ecuador wherein they are weaved and made only by master weavers.
The Toyo Straw hats are made from colorful rice-paper yarns from Japan, normally finished with a plastic glaze. These straws are smooth to feel and turn to a shiny, viscose white or a golden copper when the product is finished. Soft to touch and light to wear, the Toyo Straw hats are mostly machine-made, and so they are generally sold in the medium to low price range, perfect for those looking for an attractive yet comfortable budget hat.
Raffia Straws are made by peeling the needle-like long leaves of the Raffia palm. Each of its leaves can grow up to a length of eighty feet. Hence, hats made out of the Raffia straws are almost always woven out of single light-brown colored strands. Its fibrous nature results in extremely durable hats with their organic material making them very flexible as well. Although Raffia palms grow everywhere along coastal Africa, those that grow along its eastern Madagascar coastline are selectively used in the making of fiber that goes into weaving the Raffia straw hats.
Raffia straw hats are entirely recyclable and organic, ideal for protection from the sun on beaches.
A mysterious air always surrounds the subject of the origin of Shantung straws. That Shantung straws are made up of natural fibers is a popular misconception. Originally, Shantung was made of paper yarns or “Washi,” originating from the Manila Hemp plant native to the Philippines Islands. However, nowadays, Shantung has become synonymous with a paper fiber similar to Toyo straw but originating from China. Shantung straw hats are made from a flat machine woven sheet and blocked into their respective hat shapes.
The off-white color helps reflect the sunlight, but the weave isn’t usually as tight on shantung hats as it is on other types of straw hats. And since Shantung straws are essentially paper, they are unable to withstand moisture from either rain or sweat. Being a cheaper alternative that resembles a Panama hat, Shantung straw hats have been popular, constituting a major chunk of the market, comprising of more than half the total hat sales across the world.
Hat critics have often marveled at the classic Milan (pronounced Mylan) straw hats. But modern day Milan straws draw cynical eyes for lack of their natural rustic authenticity. Present day Milan straw actually refers to the weaving/braiding technique, not the material. Milan straw hats can be woven from multiple materials such as hemp and synthetic plastics. However, few manufacturers still produce the traditional finely-braided golden-hued hats from wheat straws, as opposed to the man-made synthetic fibers. These intricately woven hats can withstand significant wear and tear and still coruscate in their golden hues. Despite its thick braids, the Milan Straw hats are durable and light in weight. Its elegant appearance spells style statement on the streets for many fashion enthusiasts.
Beware, most hats labeled as Milan straw are made from synthetic fibers. True authentic Milan straw hats are made from a particular wheat straw, grown for the purpose in Tuscany, Italy. These hats, like Panama hats, vary enormously in quality and value; the plait of a hat of good quality may represent the work of four or five days, while hats of the highest quality may each occupy six to nine months in making. The finest work is excessively trying to the eyes of the plaiters, who can at most give to it two or three hours’ labor daily.
Standing true to its name, the seagrass straw is made up of various varieties of seagrass found along the shallow coastal regions. It can either be glazed and stiffened to a dark yellow color or left in its natural hue of soft-textured green during the making of the hat. In its latter form, the hat exudes a fresh smell. Its loosely woven contours offer proper ventilation and can easily absorb moisture, making it a suitable accessory for a sunny day. It is even able to withstand a sporadic rainstorm.