After a dreary May filled with biblical proportions of rain, I’m relieved to be putting my umbrella away for a while and reaching for a summer hat instead. The classic Panama straw hat is a timeless and versatile summer accessory that looks good with almost any summer outfit, casual or smart. From garden parties to Centre Court at Wimbledon, it’s a summer season staple. Panama hats originate in Ecuador, where the traditional art of weaving them from toquilla straw was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2012, reflecting the unique skill, craft and cultural significance around their creation.
I have always found straw hats a little tricky to wear (or any hat with a crown, for that matter). They remind me of my convent school summer uniform hat – a straw boater trimmed with a red ribbon that never really fitted me properly. I once had my head professionally measured by a Master Hatter at the renowned Lock & Co in St. James – the oldest hat shop in the world. They use a traditional instrument from the 1850s called a conformateur to record the exact shape of your head in order to make bespoke hats that are a perfect fit for their discerning clients. I glanced through their gallery in a back room at all the templates of historic heads they have measured using the same conformateur – Oscar Wilde, Jackie Onassis, Franklin D. Roosevelt… My butternut squash shaped head was a cross between Princess Diana and Charlie Chaplin – a combination I was quite happy with. To find out your hat size from home you can measure it with a tape measure, positioned mid-forehead and just above the ears.
Thankfully my school boater memories have not put me off embracing millinery in adult life. These days there is such a wide variety of hats in a range of sizes to cater for everyone. Here are some of my top picks for stylish summer hats.
Laura Cathcart has a really stylish collection of sunhats this year – classic wide-brim shapes trimmed with pretty statement bows – perfect for summer picnics and garden parties. They can be made to order to suit different sizes.
I have this 'wiggle' straw fedora by Scottish milliner Sally-Ann Provan. It is hand-made from wheat straw and trimmed with a wavy ribbon hatband woven through the eyelets (also available in red or black). 15 per cent of the profits from the sale of these hats are donated to the British Skin Foundation charity funding research into skin cancer.
Lock & Co.
Lock Hatters have a large range of classic Riviera chic summer hats for men and women. A couple of my favourites are this Cleopatra style (left) and the Cote d’azur Panama (right), with their upturned wide brims providing stylish protection from the sun. The men’s Panamas range from £195 to a whopping £6,995 for a bespoke Montecristi Panama – made from ultra-fine toquilla-palm straw. You wouldn’t want that one to blow off into the ocean on your summer boat trip!
Jess Collett’s world traveller is their bestseller summer hat and perfect for holiday style at home or, if you’re lucky, abroad. A classic straw trilby trimmed with colourful bands and pom-poms. A unisex sun hat, it’s also certified SPF 50 and packable, making it a great choice for travel.
If you can cope with the school uniform flashbacks, then straw boaters are a really quintessentially English classic look for summer Season events. In addition to the below option from Borsalino, you could try the Spencer straw boater: Lack of Colour or The Fleur Boater: Lock & Co.
Christy’s have been making hats since 1773 and have an extensive collection of classic, high quality Panamas for men and women, shaped, blocked and finished by hand in the UK. A large range of sizing and foldable Panamas are available.
Hortons of England
This ‘Vivienne’ wide-brim straw hat with polka dot ribbon trim by Hortons of England is very ‘Pretty Woman at the polo’. For men, you can’t go wrong with this classic ‘Cowdry’ Panama.
Hicks and Brown
A good value, pretty and practical summer fedora from Hicks and Brown:
Caring for your straw hats:
- If your straw hat becomes misshapen, use a steamer to gently mould it back into shape. If using an iron, use a low heat and a cloth in-between the iron and hat to protect the fibres.
- Avoid holding the hat by the crown – it’s better to pick it up by the brim to avoid misshaping the crown.
- Store with acid free tissue paper, lining the crown to maintain the shape.
- To clean your hat use a damp cloth or a wet wipe to remove marks.
- Wide brim hats are best stored on a hat stand or upturned in a hat box lined with tissue paper – if it’s left on a flat surface for long periods the brim will start to curl up.