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wonders never cease Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TUESDAY, APRIL 20th, 2010hat geeks, part 1: PANAMANIA!

panama_hatsSo, way back & long ago in the pre-blizzard days of October, we compiled a handy (and yes, nerdy) glossary of hats. Now, spring is upon us, and -- as we unpack each new shipment of delightful straw creations -- we're reminded of how very many different types of straw exist in the land of the milliner. So, welcome to Part 1 of our "Who Knew?" educational series on hat straws. (It's actually quite fascinating, we promise.) Eyes on the chalkboard, please: THE STRAW: Panama. It is one of the most recognizable straws, evoking the season of summer, lounging on the beach, the linen suit, and men in Hawaiian shirts (if only Magnum P.I. had replaced his trucker hat with a crisp panama fedora...). The panama hat is also know as the Jipijapa, named for a town in Ecuador, one of the centers of the hat trade. THE MATERIAL: Panama hats are made of Toquilla grass, a palm that grows 6-10 ft in length. THE PROCESS: Panamas are made by weaving the fronds of the Toquilla palm. Quality is determined by weaves per square inch (unit of measurement: "bu"). Particularly high weaves can go for THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS. THE ORIGIN: The "Panama" in panama straw is a bit of a misnomer: panama straw is actually woven in Ecuador. In the past, items tended to be named for their point of international sale as opposed to their point of origin. Each panama hat body is stamped with a circular burn mark indicating its origin. That burnmark can be found on the interior of a genuine panama hat. THE FAMOUS: Originally, 49er’s popularized the hats as they passed through on their way around South America. Arguably the man who popularized the panama for Americans was President Teddy Roosevelt, who wore one when he visited the construction site of the Panama Canal. Other famous wearers of the Panama include Napoleon III (who had a custom wide brimmed version), Fred Astaire, Paul Henreid (best known to most people as the Victor Lazlo in Cassablanca), and of course, Sir Sean Connery. FUN FACT: Steve Singer, president of the mail order hat company Hartford York, sells a special panama hat known as the Montecristi Masterpiece that retails for $10,000. Yes. $10,000. The proceeds of the sales go towards attracting a new generation of students for the world's remaining panama hat makers. NOT-SO-FUN FACT: Weaving panama hats is a dying trade because of aggressive marketing of cheap knockoffs. The London Times estimated that the entire industry may only have 15-20 years left and that there remain fewer than a dozen weavers who can make superfine quality hats. Another argument for buying the real deal. Stay tuned next week for...PARISISOL. Just look what can be done with parisisol!

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