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Fedoras – Let’s Discuss

January 31st, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Fashion & Style, Men's Hats

With growing popularity of shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, the fedora hat is back in the spotlight.  This style of hat never went “out”, so I wouldn’t say that it is making a comeback.  What I would say is that mainstream media has helped gain new interest in the classic fedora style.  So if you have never before worn a fedora hat and are looking for the style for you, here is a brief guide to the basic fedora styles.

Wide Brim Fedora

The wide brim fedora is the style that most people think of when they envision 1920’s-1950’s menswear, but in actuality this style is timeless.  Celebrities like Frank Sinatra in the 60’s, Michael Jackson in the 80’s and Johnny Depp in the 00’s have kept this hat in the spotlight and made it part of their every day style.  This type of hat is traditionally worn with the brim snapped down in the front, hence the term “snap brim fedora” which is another name for the style.  The wide brim edora comes in a wool felt or a fur felt in the standard colors black, grey and brown, usually with a grosgrain band.  This style of hat looks best with professional attire.  It is great with a suit or classic trench coat. 



Stingy Brim

A stingy brim fedora is a style that is growing in popularity by the day.  It is no surprise that young celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo and Benji Madden are often seen in this style.  The stingy brim has a smaller brim than the classic wide brim fedora, so it is a little less formal.  This hat can be worn with the brim up or snapped down in the front.  Classic stingy brims come in wool felt, fur felt and materials like velour and cotton, but new styles in alternative materials are on trend for 2011.  This is a great style for someone who is just starting their hat collection and has a more casual style.




The safari style fedora is most commonly associated with the Indiana Jones hat.  This style has a brim that is turned down in both the front and back.  The brim can range in size, but is usually larger than a stingy brim.  This style hat comes in a wide range of materials including wool felt, fur felt, canvas, oiled canvas and leather. Styles in this category range in formality depending on the material it is made from.  Fur felt and wool felt styles look more professional.  Canvas and leather styles are more rugged and made to withstand the elements (and you sitting on it).  I always think of the safari style as a hat that can be worn in between seasons.  When you are looking for something after straw goes out, but before you are breaking out your winter coat, the safari is a good pick. 


Tear Drop Crown

The tear drop crown is a design feature that is found in wide brim, stingy brim and safari styles.  I have had customers that have a wider face say they prefer the look of a tear drop crown as opposed to a crown with a center dent, but choosing a hat with a tear drop is really a matter of personal taste.  It does not usually change the fit of the hat. 


Pork Pie/Diamond Crown

The pork pie hat is a stingy brim hat, but with a round crown.  Technically, this is not a fedora, but it often finds itself hanging out with the fedora family.  The diamond crown lives somewhere in between the pork pie and the stingy brim fedora.  I don’t know why, but these hats are very popular with musicians.  If a guy comes in the shop asking for a pork pie, 9 times out of 10 he is in a band.  That doesn’t mean you have to play an instrument to wear this hat.  I recommend this style for anyone who is looking for an alternative to the classic fedora.


Fedora Trends

Some new trends in the world of fedoras are stylish embellishments that take this style from classic to contemporary.  Things like printed bands, alternative materials and super stingy brims are on trend for a fashionable fedora statement.  The Goorin Pebo mixed a printed band with a plaid body that makes this style very accessible.  The wide corduroy styles in the Belfry Street line also make for great accents to a t-shirt and jeans look.  The super stingy brim in a houndstooth print on the Belfry Bryant is a trendy twist on the classic style.


For the Ladies

I know I left the ladies out of today’s post, but the fedora style is also a great choice for the fashionable woman.  If you saw our Best and Worst Hats of 2010, you would notice that 3 of the top 5 ladies were chosen for wearing fedoras.  While the new trends in fedora styles lend themselves well to being incorporated into a women’s ensemble, there is always something about a woman in a classic men’s fedora (i.e. Jennifer Aniston posing for GQ Magazine).


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Hat Picks - Shop Favorites

Here at Hats in the Belfry it is our mission to provide not only a great selection of quality hats, but also expert advice and assistance when you are searching for the hat that was made just for you.  We are passionate about hats and dedicated to our customers whether they are first time hat buyers or have been shopping with us for years.

This kind of dedication and service doesn’t just happen by accident.  We have a team of people who make it their mission to provide a great hat shopping experience.  And today, I want to introduce a few of them here on the blog.  The question of the day was,

Why is Hats in the Belfry more awesome than any other hat shop?

daineDaine, Asst Shop Manager Fells Point and Inner Harbor Baltimore - What makes us better than any other hat shop is that we aren’t like any other shop.  We started as a hat retailer and now we are designing our own hats.  We are constantly moving forwards to become not only the coolest hat shop but the coolest shop online, too.





jen-g-1Jennifer, Shop Manager Annapolis - Caps and hats have really become the “it” accessory, just as important in your wardrobe as a scarf and gloves.  Our selection is the best and our store atmosphere is warm and inviting.  We are the place you want to be to transform into your “character” which is what a hat can do.





keithKeith, Shop Manager Fells Point and Inner Harbor Baltimore - I think what sets us apart from other hat stores is our selection. I really like that I can remember selling so many people their first hat whether it was because they didn’t think they looked good in hats or that  they had been searching for the perfect hat and were finally were able to find the right hat at our store.  Those customers really stick with you it’s an experience that is not only memorable for the customer but is memorable for me as well.



Our dedicated shop managers are the people you want to go to for hat advice.  They have been matching people with their perfect hat for years and have seen many a hat trend come and go.  So I asked them,

What is your favorite hat in your shop right now? 

belfry-hancock_steelDaine - My favorite right now is the Belfry Hancock.  It’s a classic, timeless look and it is eye catching.  The Steel Blue color stands out above your basic Black or Brown fedoras.  That’s why I love it.






Jennifer - My favorite style right now is the pub cap because it is great for both men and women.  I have a couple hats that I wear all the time in the shop, but my favorite right now is the Belfry Calais because I like the patchwork.  It is stylish without being too trendy.  If I’m not wearing a cap I also like the Goorin Brothers Minna Timeless.  The Minna collection has a story to tell and are very one of kind. I really like this hat.




Keith - Shop Manager Fells Point and Inner Harbor Baltimore My favorite hat at the moment is the Belfry Ross. I really love herringbone patterns and I like its classic ivy shape. I worked on mine a little and once I got the right curve to the brim the Ross is perfect.




robertRobert, Shop Manager Philadelphia - My favorite hat? It’s hard to choose from, there are so many, but one that stands out is the Belfry Coltrane.  This hat is timeless. It brings you back to the days of KOOL. You know the Rat Pack and the Jazz scene days.  This is a great hat to pair with a stylish scarf.




The Manager’s favorites might just be the perfect place to start if you are looking for your perfect hat. - Shannon

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Best and Worst Hats of 2010

December 27th, 2010 | 2 Comments | Posted in Fashion & Style, Men's Hats, Trend Watch, Women's Hats

As 2010 comes to a close, I wanted to take a look back at the great hats and celebrity hat wearers of the year.  Hats are seen on every type of celebrity from musicians and actors, to athletes and reality TV stars.  We live in a fashionable time where an accessory can make or break you look.  Some people got it very right and some very wrong.  Here are the best and worst hat looks of 2010.

Best Men’s Celebrity Hats

#5 – David Bekham.  David is a style icon without question, but his looks this year were on the casual side.  I love the matching scarf and knit cap.  He doesn’t look like he is trying to make a fashionable statement, but he does anyway.


#4 – Brad Pitt.  Brad has worn all different styles of hats this year, from knit to flat cap and fedora on occasion.  This white summer straw is one of my favorites.  It is clean and classic, but still very modern.


#3 – Talib Kweli.  This year the flat cap has become even more popular with styles ranging from classic to contemporary.  I love this plaid cap and love how he paired it with a clean stylish t-shirt, jeans and jacket.  This cap could compliment anyone’s style.


#2 – Neyo.  The famous R&B hat wearer never disappoints with his hat choices.  Throughout 2010 he has worn dozens of different fedoras, but the classic black snap brim is my favorite and his signature.


#1 – Johnny Depp.  A man who doesn’t take his style too seriously is sure making a statement with his rumpled fedoras this year.  Seen in London, Paris and the States in different versions of the “worn” fedora hat look.  You think he must have just come across it at some thrift shop somewhere and threw it on his head.  Easy and effortless, Johnny is my number one pick for 2010.


Best Women’s Celebrity Hats

#5 – Katy Perry. Although she is known for the glitz and glam looks she wears on the red carpet, Katy Perry has been spotted out and about is some really cute fedoras this year.  The tilted back stingy brim is a little reminiscent of the 1980’s, but looks adorable and current with movie star shades.


#4 – Gwen Stefani.  Gwen has always pushed the envelope with her rocker style with a glamorized twist.  This year, she has been seen out in fedoras, flat caps and baseball hats, but this straw fedora with a simple red band that goes perfectly with her signature red lipstick is my favorite look of of hers this year.


#3 – Kim Kardashian.  Even if she isn’t your favorite reality TV personality, the girl has an eye for fashion.  This brown floppy with the simple add on band looks glamorous without being over the top.


#2 – Ashlee Simpson Wentz.  As a young mom, Ashlee has totally redone her look this year.  Her adorable blonde pixy hair cut with this black snap brim fedora set on the back of her head is a fashion YES! in my eyes. Paired with the leopard print that was very popular this year and she looks really put together without being too dressed up.


#1 – Taylor Swift.  I know I might get some backlash for picking Taylor as my number 1, but this is a great look.  The bold red knit paired with the black biker style fitted jacket is a statement without being a big Kentucky Derby brim or feathered sky high work of art.  The girl knows how to turn heads and this simple and stylish hat does just that.


What were they thinking?

#4 – Brett Michaels.  I know this guy has had an up and down year, but please, find a new hat look in 2011.  This straw cowboy hat with the bandana underneath is killing me.


#3 – Khloe Kardashian.  I just came back from NYC and I realize that these fuzzy animal hats are on every street vendor’s corner, but Kloe…seriously….this is awful.


#2 – Will.I.Am. I know every once in a while you have to take some risks in fashion, but the Lego hat worn on the AMAs is just too much for me.  How uncomfortable that thing must be.


#1 – Lady Gaga.  I’m sorry to do it as I am a Gaga fan, but the silver glitter lobster was just too much.  It just looks dangerous.  I can’t believe we haven’t heard of any of her outfits injuring her.  This would be one I would be nervous about.

lady gaga mr chow 280210

I am really looking forward to seeing what hat trends will emerge in 2011.  Until then, have a safe and happy New Years! - Shannon

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Not Just a Knit

December 20th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted in Fashion & Style, Men's Hats, Women's Hats

It was a very cold December day when a group of people came in the hat shop, looking for something very specific.  They asked me if we carried “breaking and entering” hats.  I had never heard of a hat being called this, but knew exactly what they were talking about, a basic black acrylic knit hat.  I can only hope that they were not going to wear these hats while committing a crime.  It was freezing outside, so I am pretty sure they just wanted something warm. 

Knit hats have come a long way since the basic knit was the go-to for a warm hat for the winter.  We have changed up the materials, revamped the styles and expanded the color choices so that everyone can have the warmth of a knit without looking like they just knocked off the nearby 7-11.


An alternative to the basic knit style is an army cap, like this one.  This Military Jeep Hat by Goorin Bros. is the perfect mix of fashion and function and comes in black and olive.  It is made in a soft acrylic knit, easily rolls up in your pocket and keeps you warm all winter long.  Military style wasn’t just popular this fall, the trend carries over to winter wear this year. 


If you want the classic style knit with a little more style, the Belfry Street Eugene is a perfect pick.  The unique thing about this hat is that it is an alpaca knit.  Alpaca is a silky knit, that is warmer than wool and contains less allergens.  You know that itchy feeling you get on your forehead after wearing your acrylic knit for a while?  That won’t happen with a knit like this.


One of my personal favorite knit styles for women is the Knit Beret from San Diego Hat Company.  This knit is the perfect shape to wear all the ways a beret can be worn, off to one side, behind the hair line pulled back or pulled down like a classic knit hat.  It comes in great colors, like fuschia, green, purple and yellow as well as the basic black and ivory.  It looks adorable on young girls and classic on women.


If you are looking for the basic black knit style, do not fear, we still have the classic knit.  The Belfry Street Chicago is a Bamboo knit.  Bamboo is a sustainable material that many clothing manufacturers are starting to use more and more.  This is a warm knit with cool max material that will keep you dry if you sweat in your hat.  It is lighter weight than a wool or alpaca, but keeps you just as warm. This hat does have a matching scarf that I always like to tell people about. It is a really long scarf, but it is light weight so it doesn’t pull on your neck like many heavy wool knits.


What ever style you choose this winter, stay warm out there! Have a great holiday and a very Merry Christmas. -Shannon

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Looks We Love

December 12th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted in Fashion & Style, Men's Hats, Women's Hats

When I’m working the Hats In the Belfry shop, I love to help people put together the perfect hat/scarf/bag combo.  Now you don’t have to be in the shop to get expert accessorizing advice.  We have added a new feature to our website that does just that!  Looks We Love” is a new section where you can get a little preview of how our hats look with other accessories.  I wanted to share a few of my favorite looks on the blog today to give you an idea what to expect from our experts.

One of my favorite women’s hat styles this season is this Belfry Sadie, cloche.  This hat is a statement piece that is sure to get complimented on the street.  Often with a hat this special, people are conservative with accessories.  I am here to say, you don’t have to be.  This pairing of plaid print scarf is a fashion, YES!  You can wear this look over any color coat, including black, camel, red, navy or brown.



A casual women’s look that is sure to turn heads is this brown and tan look.    This knit Hat by Grace Hats is perfect for bad hair days and is much cuter than a ball cap.  Pair this comfy hat with a stylish scarf and you look put together, whether it is over your winter coat or with a long sleeve t-shirt and jeans. Throw on your brown Bagallini and the look is complete.



For guys who want to look put together without looking like they are trying too hard, this casual camel look is perfect.  An army style cap in corduroy from our new Belfry Street collection paired with a warm brown scarf looks great over your black or navy pea coat.  Add your messenger bag and you are ready for work or school with everything you need.  Plus you can wear this canvas bag year round.



The last look I picked to share is a classic.  The snap brim felt fedora and the Belfry Tweed Scarf in grey.  I love the contrast of the black hat with a grey scarf, instead of black on black on black.  This style hat looks great with a long black wool or trench coat.  The grey is a nice contrast without going too crazy with a print or a bright color.  Sometimes people don’t think about the scarf when purchasing a hat, but you really need it to complete your winter look.  Did I mention we are offering a gift with purchase of our classic style fedoras?



When putting together your winter look (or the look of a loved one this holiday season) don’t forget about accessories.  And check out the Looks we Love at www.hatsinthebelfry.com.


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Belfry Gift Guide

November 28th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted in Men's Hats, Women's Hats

The season has begun and instead of standing in those long shopping lines, you might be looking online for the perfect gift for each person on your list.  We have done that search for you and have put together a list of essential items that are sure to make your friends and family swoon. 

Do-it-All Dad Driving Cap $38, Slippers $49.50, Metallic Pen $27.95  To show Dad that you really care, give him the gift of style and warmth.  The perfect flat cap adds to every man’s wardrobe both casual and formal.


Let Dad get pampered for a change with these cozy slippers from Lands End.  His conversation piece will be his Metallic Pen, that doesn’t have ink and still writes permanent.


Make-it-work Mom Cloche $98, Jewelry Tree $59.95, Herb Garden $34.95 Mom takes care of you, so this year, take care of Mom.  A cloche hat will top off her winter look at all of the holiday outings she will be going on.


Give Mom a beautiful place to keep all the jewelry that Dad is getting her this holiday.  And make her life easier. A busy mom need not go to the market for her essential herbs when she can have a garden of her own.


Totally Trendy Teen Fedora $38, iPlunge Phone Stand $5.99, Wall Decals $14.99 The toughest person on your list is sure to be excited about a trendy fedora from our Belfry Street collection.  Snap brim fedoras are seen on all the hottest celebs and will convince your teen you are hip to what is hot.


iPhone accessories are sure to please your teens and maybe even get them to stop texting for a minute.  Let them express and decorate their space with these photo frame wall decals from Urban Outfitters.


Save-the-Day Sitter Knit Hat $38, Earbuds $20, Purse Hook $19.95 They take care of your kids when you need a break, take care of them with a warm and cozy essential knit.


Accessories with real purpose are a great gift for the people that make your life easier.  Cool new earbuds to accessorize their MP3 player or a convenient purse hook to keep their stuff off the floor.


Busy-Business Partner Money Clip $34, Good Luck Golf Tees $29.95, Wine Stoppers $11.95 The holidays are a great time to thank the people you work with every day.  The Stewart Stand Wovel Steel Money Clip is a great way to show you appreciate your friends in your business.


Give the gift of good luck, with this golf tee pack.  Seasonal wine stoppers will add to any holiday event.


Terrific Teacher Scarf $24, Tea $9.50, Chocolates $15 Teachers make an impact on us all and it is a great way to show them you appreciate their hard work by finding the perfect gift for them this holiday.  A great scarf will add to the perfect winter wardrobe.


Think warm and decadent this season by finding the perfect tea or yummy chocolate.


Find more great gift giving ideas at the following sites: Hats In the Belfry, Gifts.com and Red Envelope

Happy Shopping! -Shannon

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What is your cap style?

October 25th, 2010 | 4 Comments | Posted in Men's Hats, Trend Watch

The classic style of the flat cap is very popular this season, so it is no surprise that you see leading men from all genres sporting one out this fall.  These hats go by many names, ivy cap, driving cap, pub cab and others.  The basics are the same, but the styles can be very different, classic styles in classic colors, throwbacks to the traditional English ivy cap and new trendy fashions.  You have to ask yourself, what is your cap style?

Is it classic black?  Black does go with everything especially with more black, like Brad was spotted wearing in Budapest this month.  The black cap and scarf elevated his casual look and really makes the difference with his causal t-shirt and jeans.  But as always, he never looks like he is trying too hard.



Is it traditional ivy cap?  Funny man, Dax Shepard tops off his look with a very classic English ivy cap.  The brown plaid compliments a casual look or spruces up a dress shirt with skinny tie.  If you are a guy who isn’t afraid to show off your style, this look is for you. 



Is it casual grey wool?  Kellan Lutz, actor in the hit Twilight movies, is featured in all the grocery checkout aisle magazines since the success of the vampire flicks.  His classic style is a flat cap with a leather jacket.  The basic grey cap goes with a brown motorcycle jacket as well as with a black pea coat.



Is it fashionable plaid?  Hip hop artist, Talib Kweli, makes a statement with his brown plaid ivy cap.  Still a very classic style, his look is elevated when his hat is the focal point of his ensemble.  This proves that you don’t have to match prints exactly to what you are wearing.  A great hat can stand alone.



No matter which style you choose, a classic cap will certainly make your look stand out this fall.

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Signature Style - Samuel L Jackson

October 4th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted in Men's Hats

I am so impressed by how much Samuel L. Jackson and the Kangol hat, are one in the same to many many customers.  You know what I’m talking about, that backwards Kangol hat that Samuel L. is famous for.  To give you a little history, Samuel L. Jackson started wearing a Kangol in the nineties and the same style hat is still popular today.  That in and of itself is an amazing feat.  He continues to be photographed in all different styles of Kangols on the red carpet even after Snakes on a Plane. 


Kangol 504 Wool Ivy Cap

On a regular basis people come in to the shop asking for the Samuel L Jackson hat.  We know that they really mean to ask for the Kangol Classic 504 Ivy Cap with a white embroidered Kangaroo on the back.  I know this might sound like crazy talk, but companies other than Kangol make a driving cap like the one that he wears.  And, hold on while I blow your minds even more, Kangol makes other styles of hats than just the driving caps!  And you will never believe this one, Kangol is a British company, not Australian. 

Have I lost you?  Maybe a picture of Sammie will bring you back.


Photo Credit

What is the point of my rambling, you ask?  I’m not really trying to make any point.  I just want people to know that they have options.  I had a customer in the store that was set on getting a Samuel L. Jackson hat, but the classic Kangol just did not look good on him.  I think the words he used were, “it looks like a navy blue dinner plate sitting on my head.”  We tried on a couple of different styles and discovered that the Goorin Bros. Alpert and Iam Reed were a much better fit for his narrow face.  Unfortunately, he was a pretty conservative guy and really had his heart set on a solid color.


Goorin Iam Reed

We tried the Belfry Biltmore, which comes in solid black and is a similar shape to the Goorin Bros. caps.  It has a nice rounded front and doesn’t poof out on the sides.  The fabric wasn’t his favorite as it has just a little sheen to it. 


Belfy Biltmore

As we worked our way through the stacks we came upon the Belfry Kent, which has a side-seems that pull the hat closer to the head on the sides.  This was his perfect hat!  Basic black and a classic style.


Belfry Kent

The moral of this story is, keep an open mind when looking for your perfect hat.   Try something new and you just might end up with your own classic style, just like Samuel L.


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Beat The Heat In The Dog Days Of Summer!

Summer is in full swing, as I’m sure you can feel. Temperatures this summer have been record breaking in some parts of the country and here on the east coast, we have felt the sun in full force. Most of us need to be reminded about sun safety. Are you being smart? It’s no mystery as to why millions of Americans are diagnosed with some type of skin cancer every year. Yeah, we have all seen the commercials and magazines with all the sun-kissed looks that are trendy this summer, but at what risk? What’s even trendier is rockin’ your natural healthy glow with some fashionable accessories that help you beat the heat.

According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, the average human only needs to spend approximately 5 to 30 minutes, twice a week in the sun to get the proper amount of vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential to the body because it helps absorb calcium, which in turn makes for stronger bones. In the summer months most people spend hours at a time in the sun on a daily basis. Some for a fun day at the beach, and others might have a job that requires them to work outside. The fact is that Americans, as a whole, get too much sun exposure and if you don’t know by now, too much sun causes premature aging and heightens the risk for developing skin cancer down the road. I know this all sounds a bit scary and the thought of wrinkles just puts a damper on things, but don’t sweat it, there are some fun and easy ways to beat the heat!!!

Sunscreen is not just for the beach people! It’s a great habit to always apply sunscreen on a regular basis. Even on a cloudy day you can still get burned. You never know when you might get caught in the summer sun! Try to use at least SPF 30, especially if you are fair skinned. Umbrellas are a great way to beat the heat as well, providing us with some much needed shade (and some of them can be pretty cute). Whether you’re at the beach where there is no escape from the sun, or walking around town window shopping; a large umbrella could really come in handy.

Sunscreen and umbrellas are all good, but hello…it’s summer time! Summer is a time to have fun, let loose and express yourself and your sense of style. What better way to do that than with some fabulous summer hats. We are all about beating the heat with style! We recommend our

Protection Collection
for the most protection from the sun’s rays, blocking up to 50 UPF (which is equivalent to 50 SPF in a lotion). We have a variety of styles, colors and brim sizes, and most of them pack right up, making them super easy to take with you where ever you may go this summer. So ladies, did you just buy the perfect swimsuit for a weekend at the lake? Well why not dress is up with a fashionable sun hat that provides you with enough protection and shade, making the sun’s rays the least of your worries. Same goes for you gentlemen! Going golfing with the boys?? You need some stylish protection too. Have fun this summer without worrying about the heat! Protect yourself with style!

No more excuses because of the sun. Beat the heat this summer and every summer the smart, stylish and fun way. Have fun and be trendy without the risk of sun expose. Beat the heat with style!!!

- Ashley

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Panama Hats: From Their Hands To Your Heads!

Panama hats are one of the oldest, most classic fashion accessories, made famous by men such as Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. There is an essence of superior quality that is embedded in these hand woven hats. At first glance, appearing as linen or silk, the master weavers of Ecuador have made their living one weave at a time. So how did these legendary hats make it from an outpost just south of the equator to the windows of NYC, and why do some pay thousands of dollars for just one hat? Maybe you would like to know why they are called panama hats, when in fact they are and always have been made in Ecuador by Ecuadorians!

Let’s go back to the mid 1800’s, when the Ecuadorians first started to export their hats. They exported their hats through the Isthmus of Panama. There they were sold and made their way to various places around the world. During the Spanish American War in 1898, the U.S. purchased 50,000 hats for the troops from merchants in Panama, which is thought to be one way the hats got their name. However, during the construction of the Panama Canal in the early 20’s, these hats were given to the workers to protect them from the sun. You can understand now why these hats were thought to be from Panama.

The long road to the New York City shops (and of course to Hats in the Belfry) all starts in a coastal village in Ecuador known as Cadeate. There are five days in every lunar cycle where Ecuadorians harvest toquilla straw (carludovica palmate), which is the straw that goes into creating the wonderful hats. These palm-like, 5-10ft tall, wild plants are scheduled for harvest five days after the moon reached its waning quarter. The reason for this is because at that time the straw holds less moisture, making it lighter, easier to cut and more pliable to weave. The Village Council requires 1,200 stalks to be harvested per family each day during the five day cycle. From there mules and trucks transport the stalks to a place where the straw can be separated into strands. The outer sheath of each stalk it stripped off and not used in the making of the hats. The inner fingers of the stalks are split into dozens of yard long ribbon-like strands and are still attached to the leaf stem. After the proper preparation the stalks then go into a vat of boiling water for one hour and then are hung out to dry.

Once the straw is dry, it’s ready to be woven by a master weaver. Two generations ago there were approximately 2000 master weavers. However, today there are only approximately 20 master weavers. The weave is very specific and if you know what you’re looking for you can pick out an authentic panama weave. The easiest way to tell is by looking at the top of the hat. It should always be woven in a circular pattern and usually somewhere on the inside of the hat you may see the official Ecuador stamp. The edges of a high quality panama hats are always woven back into the brim, never trimmed and then sewn like lesser quality panama hats.

Once the Weave is complete, the straw for the hats is then washed and pummeled. This process provides regularity, flexibility and suppleness to the straw. The sides and the crown of the hat are then beaten to even out the straw even further (another art unto itself). Once that’s finished, the straw can be dyed various colors, if chosen, or bleached or left its natural color. The most common colors of panama hats are natural or bleach white. Once the color of the straw is decided, it’s blocking and ironing time. Not all Panama Hats are ironed and blocked in Ecuador anymore in this modern day age. For instance, a hats company can order the woven panama straw and then perform the ironing and blocking process themselves. This saves money for many companies and also saves master Ecuadorian weavers lots of time. The ironing process removes undulation in the straw. Hand blocking is then done with steam and an iron or a steam press to produce many familiar styles such as gambler and planters.

The process of making a Panama hat can take 2-3 months to complete depending on the artisan weaver. Each hat is weaved and blocked by a single artisan. Of course there are different levels of quality of panama hats. In Ecuador there are two main places that produce panama hats. The city of Montecristi is where the highest quality hats are made, known as “superfinos”. What that means is that these hats will have up to 1600-2000 weaves per square inch and should be able to hold water as well as pack up enough to be able to fit through a wedding band. Those are the Panama hats that cost thousands of dollars. The other city in Ecuador is Cuenca. This city produces a more economical alternative, producing hats with 100 or fewer weaves per square inch, making it possible for everyone to own their very own Panama hat.

From the fields of Cadeate, up through the Panama Canal, to the windows of NYC and the shelves of Hats in the Belfry, to the heads of the most fashionable, Panama Hats are classic and are some of the most beautifully hand crafted products created in the world. Unfortunately, some fear that the Ecuadorian Panama Hat industries will only continue for the next 15-20 years due to cheap imitation from china. So don’t be fooled, and don’t except anything but true quality in your Panama hat.

- Ashley

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