If you are like me and you find silly pleasure in the old-fashioned elegance of a suited man with a hat, then this summer you should persuade your beau to wear one. If you are a man, and you cannot tell apart your fedoras from your trilbies or pork pies, just think of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) in Boardwalk Empire or Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Great Gatsby. There is nothing more charming and chic for the summer than a Panama hat to add a flair of vintage style to your summer linens and suits. Forget about worn-out stereotypes of hipsters, musicians or Winston Churchill wearing hats. The 1920s and 1930s prohibition-era or Gatsby-style hats are making a comeback and they are perfect for that nonchalant poise of a gentleman ready to conquer hearts.

The Panama Hat

Hats such as the fedora, Panama, trilby and porkpie are perfect for that all-time classic look, but for this summer choose the lightweight weave of a Panama hat. While Panama hats might have the same shape as a fedora or a trilby, they are made from woven straw or palm instead of felt. With a malleable weave, they can endure the sun, water, or crumpling without altering their shape. Ideal for warm and humid climates, the Panama hat used to be an accessory for the tropical destination traveller, but now is a staple item in the wardrobe of the modern man as the ultimate statement piece for a cool look. 

Made by weaving toquilla palm leaves, Panama hats come originally from Ecuador, particularly the villages around Montecristi, a town in the Manabí province of Ecuador. Now, though, the cheap majority of the hats are made in the centre of Cuenca in the highlands of Ecuador. The hat’s name was not derived from the place of origin but from that of their selling destination, the Isthmus of Panama. They were sold to sailors and workers on the Panama Canal in the early 20th century. A picture of President Theodore Roosevelt wearing a Panama hat in 1904 when visiting the construction site of the Panama Canal increased the hat’s popularity. 

In the 1930s a luxury vehicle would set you back $500, but a Panama hat, $1,000! Edward VIII and Al Capone were among the Panama hat enthusiasts. While an average Panama hat might cost $25 to $50, in the West it will be three times more expensive. Quality Panama hats, like the Montecristi superfinos, have a finer weave and cost thousands of dollars. 

The legend regarding the superfinos stresses their fine qualities. It is said that you can fill them with water and no drop will pass through them, while if you roll them up they can pass through a wedding ring. There are only a few weavers who know how to make a Montecristi superfino now, and only a few dozen superfinos are made each year. The hats are rare and the process of making them lengthy. Well-crafted ones rely on the quality of the straw and its natural preparation, and they have a distinct antique ivory colour as opposed to the very white ones caused by chemical bleaching.

The Brands

If you are searching this summer for the perfect Panama hat tailored just for you, below are some choices to consider. Compare these online retailers’ prices and styles to decide which one fits your wallet and style best.

Lock and Co Hatters, London: One of the oldest hat shops in the world (1765). It is believed that an eccentric of the Lock family, James Benning, also a servant of Lewis Carroll, was the inspiration for the Mad Hatter character in Alice in Wonderland. In 1882 Oscar Wilde buys a black fedora for his US lecture tour and in the 1960s Jackie Kennedy purchases a riding hat, the Quorn. Vivienne Westwood collaborates with Lock to produce hats and hat boxes. Lock sells on their website authentic Ecuadorian Panama hats and with £995 you can buy your own superfino

Borsalino, Alessandria, Italy: A hat company established in 1857 that specializes in fedora hats. You can purchase a genuine superfino for €1104. A Panama Quito hat costs €221.

Rubinacci, Napoli: Designer Luca Rubinacci, the grandson of Gennaro Rubinacci and the son of Mariano Rubinacci, is also the heir to the patriarchs’ Neapolitan Maison Rubinacci, a tailoring dynasty. A Rubinacci Panama hat costs around £190. 

Loro Piana: An Italian company specializing in luxury wool and cashmere products, with stores in Italy, Europe, America and Asia. For €620 you can purchase their toquilla palm hat, handwoven in Ecuador and finished in Italy.

Pachacuti (Fairtrade), London: A Fairtrade company started by Carry Sommers in 1992 and currently run by her husband, Mark Rogers, dedicated to creating bespoke hats and fascinators. Marrying Ecuadorian weaving skills and British design, Pachacuti hats are uniquely classic. A Pachacuti Panama hat ranges from £67 to £445.

Christy’s Hats: Making hats since 1773, and the largest hat factory in the world by 1843, Christy’s Hats remains the only hat company in the world to be making top hats and bowlers in the traditional way. A superfino Panama hat costs £135. 

How to Wear It

Wear your Panama hat with a Brunello Guccinelli (Grey Slim-Fit Houndstooth Linen, Wool And Silk-Blend Suit) or a Kingsman suit (maybe try this Grey Slim-Fit Double-Breasted Prince Of Wales Checked Suit). Opt for a linen, or a linen and silk-blend, suit for the summer in a light colour so you can wear it for all occasions and all hours of the day. A suit like this might cost you from £1,000 to £3,000 but you can also find something more affordable at Zara

And, Don’t Forget your Hat Etiquette

Always remove your hat when you go to someone’s home or office, a bank, restaurant, cinema, or theatre. It is suitable to wear your hat when you are outside, travelling, in retail shops or the Post Office.