Straw Fedora Hats: The Difference Between Good, Better & Best

Straw Fedora Hats: The Difference Between Good, Better & Best

When someone refers to a straw fedora hat, they are often referring to a wide variety of materials--and sometimes they aren't even aware that there are so many choices! This can easily become a very confusing venture for those trying to find just what "straw" hat best suits their needs, and even what constitutes a good straw from a better straw, to the best in quality, and what those parameters even are or should be.

But don't let your head start swimming from all the possibilities quite yet. Let's break down these elements to help you out!

The Good

What constitutes a "good" straw fedora hat?

One might at least assume it's a lightweight fedora that covers the basic bases of giving some sun protection--maybe not the absolute best, but something is always going to be better than nothing at all--and coming with enough style and durability to hold up to some travel without sacrificing any means of making sure you still look sharp for the day. 

Good straw sources for such hats therefore tend to typically be paper braids and weaves that offer breathability, packability, and comfort without really being terribly heavy as an investment. Stingy brim fedoras like our Belfry Blake and Belfry Dax offer not only durable crushability, but also the satisfaction of elevating your everyday style with their classic shapes and with the Dax especially an arsenal of colors to choose from to top you off!

The Better

If paper braids and weaves constitute the "good" end of straw fedora choices, what's the next step up?

We find that refined paper choices like toyo paper straw and hardy raffias are definitely the next level you should consider!

Toyo straw is actually shellacked rice paper material produced in Japan, and it's known not only for its light weight and durability, but also has the added benefit of comfort as it has a tendency to mold to its wearer's head over time, making it really and truly your hat. The tight weaves it comes in also tend to give fairly nice sun protection, and given it's still a paper, a lot of milliners enjoy its ability to take on a wide arrange of brilliant colors, as well as getting to experiment with dip-dye techniques or washes. Our Belfry Filippo for example, is a safari brim fedora sporting a brilliant bourdeaux wash, showcasing this facet wonderfully!

For lovers of natural straws, this is where raffia straw shines. Made from the raffia palm originating in Madagascar, raffia straw is prized for its sheer durability and flexibility in how it can be formed to suit your needs, making it one of our favorites to recommend for when folks are looking for a hat to take abroad or to the beach for years to come. A lot of our crocheted hats are made of raffia straw, making hats like the Belfry Spello perfect companions anywhere from the sand and waves to a day out exploring historic downtown districts! And flat weaves like the Belfry Giada make a bold statement with its flat brim rancher fedora look while also keeping you covered from the sun.

The Best

And so it comes to what we consider some of the best straws for your straw fedora: Panama and Shantung. 


Panama straw is made from the leaves of carludovica palmata, or toquilla palm, which actually isn't really a true palm tree, but a palm-like plant. It goes through specific processing steps to then be woven in a very intricate and unique style that has been its staple since the seventeenth century in Ecuador. This is such a traditional process that Panama straw, to be labelled as true Panama, may not be made any different, or woven anywhere else, so keep an eye for those telltale signs of authentic Panama like that initial starting knot you'll find at the top of the crown and the beautiful circular weaving that spirals out from it. Oftentimes too you can spy a brand inside the crown tucked out of sight, and it's these details we always show our customers when talking to them about our Panama selections in the store. 

Because they're handwoven, Panama straws come in a variety of grades and can take anywhere from eight hours to eight months or more for an artisan to create a single hat with the very finest weaves, spanning their prices between a couple hundred to over a thousand USD. They're undoubtedly worth the investment as each hat has come from such expertise and craftsmanship, and cut elegant profiles ready to have you fit for your next dress event, like our Belfry Stephano and Belfry St. John.

Briefly during the mid-twentieth century there was scarcity of toquilla palm, leading to want for an alternative that still held such high quality. This led to Shantung straw coming to the stage as a main competitor to fill the void as supply recovered, and it remains a steadfast staple in summer straw materials to this day.

Shantung straw is actually a high performance paper that is woven into a yarn to imitate straw. It is very fine, durable, and makes for a great hat for dress and everyday wear, though it does prefer a dry climate if wanting to retaining a more rigid shape. With humidity, like what we get here in Maryland, Shantung softens and has a wonderful, almost buttery feel to its straw body which--if you like, is fantastic! It's definitely the material we recommend as an alternative for anyone sensitive to the texture of natural straws due to the comfort it provides.

But don't worry too terribly much about its integrity. Many Shantung straws will come lacquered to help protect it from moisture like the Juno from Stetson!


So Good, Better, & Best: now that you have the rundown of these different options for your new summer straw fedora, which way do you think you'll go? We'd love to help you out (and you know, talk hats) so if you have any questions definitely feel free to reach out to our Customer Service at 888-995-HATS (4287) or by email at Or better yet, why not visit us in person in Downtown Annapolis at 103 Main Street? We're open every day, 10am to 6pm!

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