With warmer months ahead of us, the time to store away our cozy sweaters and coats and the inevitable switch to lighter materials is right around the corner. The very same goes for your hat! If you're really only used to wearing felts and knits to keep cozy, but really enjoy the look of your hat and want to keep it year-round, it can be a bit daunting to know where to start when considering the materials most suited for spring and summer weather. Straw of course seems like a no-brainer, but even then you find a whole array of materials referred to as "straw," and wow can that be overwhelming!
Let's help make it easier for your to determine which straw best suits your needs with a quick breakdown of various types you'll find with us at Hats in the Belfry!
Handwoven in Ecuador out of fibers made from the leaves of the toquilla palm and made popular during the construction of the Panama Canal, Panama straws are a summer staple for us here. You can always tell when you're holding a legitimate Panama straw hat if it has that center starting knot (like as seen in our Belfry Ladd, pictured above), as well as a brand somewhere along the straw body--ours are usually spied inside the crown! This material is very light on the head so it is very comfortable to wear for long stretches of time, and with a delicately intricate weave, can give a fair bit of sun protection making it a wonderful option should you find yourself at a summertime event like a garden party..
Made from strands harvested and processed of the raffia palm, this straw type is another favorite for its durability and packability. It boasts thicker fibers than its Panama counterpart, and is often the straw we opt for when designing the super crushable and packable crocheted straw hats like our Belfry Corrado that boasts a crocheted raffia crown and toyo brim. Naturally resistant to water (but not fully waterproof, mind you!), raffia straw is a fine choice if you're headed to the beach to enjoy some sun and the sand--and look pretty sharp doing so.
The name of the game in summer is to find breathable and light materials to utilize, and hemp is definitely one of them. They also tend to be naturally resistant to ultraviolet light and mold, giving them a great base for durability during most any summer activity. One of our latest hemp hats is the Belfry Mondello, its packable cloche shape perfect for downtown romping or looking super cute at the beach.
There is a subtle beauty in the way seagrass straws shift in color from tans to greens, seen easily in our Belfry Elizabeth. Harvested from the sea floor and dried to be woven into hats, seagrass is a good material to keep in mind if you enjoy structure, especially if you want a very natural and neutral straw appearance, as well as moisture absorption. It's a great option for those really hot days!
Sisal straw is actually made from the agave sisalana plant found originally in Yucatán. With its very fine strands, it tends to take dyes really well, lending it to being a popular straw type for some of our dressier hats like the Belfry Marini--even if they aren't necessarily "event" hats like some of our more elaborate Derby styles (those are usually sinamay!)
Speaking of our sinamays, what exactly is sinamay, anyway? It's actually a fiber made from the abaca tree, which is a type of banana tree in the Philippines. Though hats like our Belfry Lilla may look delicate and airy, we can attest to how durable and forgiving a good sinamay hat is if needing to be recovered. Usually just a bit of steam and some gentle negotiations by hand has them looking fresh and new.
Toyo straw is actually a rice paper threaded into yarns to be woven like natural straws, and then usually shellacked for extra protection against the elements. The material is fairly light and gives really nice protection against the sun, with an added bonus of generally being fairly easy to recover so long as the material was not completely submerged or drenched. Hats like our Belfry Ernesto define both function and style, with its safari brim shape keeping you covered from the sun while the contrasting patterned crown and solid brim can dress up any summer look!
Though its modern version is very similar to toyo in that it is a high grade paper straw, Shantung originally was referred to as a "Washi" paper straw derived from the manila hemp plant from the Philippines. It's very comfortable to wear if you find yourself sensitive to the texture of natural straws, which is why we tend to recommend it to customers who usually can't get behind straw hats because they feel "itchy and irritating." Be advised that it does soften with humidity and moisture, however, so you'll want to take care with storage if you want it to keep a more rigid state, though you may be saved the hassle if it is heavily shellacked. Our Belfry Arnold keeps the best of both worlds remaining fairly pliable but also toting a protective Teflon coating--check it out if you visit our Annapolis shop where it's still in stock!
Paper Braid Straw
Paper braid straws are generally paper straws either of toyo or other paper materials that have been woven together in long strands that are then sewn together to create the body of a hat. The Belfry Margharita is a new paper braid straw for us this year, and it's easy to see the way the braided strand of straw is joined together in the precise, descending lines down through the hat body.
Poly Braid Straw
Machined in the same fashion as their paper braid counterparts, poly braid straws differ only in material. "Poly" is actually short for polypropylene, which is a plastic. A fair number of our Stetsons like the Belfry Roark are poly braids, and while we're adamant fans of their sleek look, the poly braids are also one of our main recommendations if you're headed to an outdoor event and there's a chance for rain. Due to the material, rain won't dampen the integrity of your hat, which is a definite win if you're determined to enjoy the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, rain or shine!
Now that you're armed with a bit more knowledge on the array of straws ready to keep you covered this summer, why not check out our Raffia and Panama selections, as well as our Summer Stetson and Sun Protection collections to get you started?
Want to shop in person? Come visit us in Annapolis at 103 Main Street! If you've seen something online and want to try it on, give us a call ahead of time to see if we have it in stock at (410) 268-6333.
We'd love to help you out, and we'll look forward to seeing you!