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Accessories

Panama Hats, A Summer Staple

Kamau Hosten

Though the pattern of weather sees spring transition to summer, it seems New York has gone from winter to summer, then back to mild winter. There was precious little time to appreciate those ideal, 70-degree days of April before temperatures peeked in the upper 80s just this week.

With that, I, like many of my clothing-enthusiast e-friends, have begun reaching for the time-tested, warm weather arsenal of gear. None top off the unlined linen and seersucker-champions of the summer-better than the Panama hat. To continue the pursuit that is menswear, I just needed to find one. Enter Flamekeepers Hat Club.

Flamekeepers Hat Club owner Marc Williamson displays a navy Panama Hat.

Flamekeepers Hat Club owner Marc Williamson displays a navy Panama Hat.

The Harlem shop, previously covered on this website, has grown in both stock and notoriety as it approaches its first anniversary at the end of the summer. I chatted with owner Marc Williamson, who’d just completed a weekend displaying his goods at a menswear-geared Pop Up Flea shop, held bi-annually in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York. Having now spoken with him several times, before I uttered a word, he knew I was in to ready myself for summer. And to the Panama hat section I darted, picking up a few. As I tried on the lot, spending far too much time in the mirror, Marc discussed the process of the Panama hat.

Panama hat by Flamekeepers Hat Club; frames by SEE Eyewear, jacket by Club Monaco, polo shirt by Uniqlo

Panama hat by Flamekeepers Hat Club; frames by SEE Eyewear, jacket by Club Monaco, polo shirt by Uniqlo

“It’s really a scientific process,” explained Williamson, about the production of the hats. Made from the toquilla palm, which is native to coastal areas of Ecuador, the weaving process can take anywhere from days to months, depending of a number of factors, according to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The open weave makes it a popular choice for the warm weather, as it allows the wearers head to breathe.

Despite the name, the hats are very much Ecuadorian in origin. Two widely accepted foundations for the name come from the hats being first shipped through Panama, then Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th U.S. president, being photographed in one during the construction of the Panama Canal. The name stuck.

Jacket by Suit Supply, shirt by Kamakura Shirts, trousers by Brioni

Jacket by Suit Supply, shirt by Kamakura Shirts, trousers by Brioni

The hat itself, often light in color, pairs well with seasonally suitable garments in lighter fabrics. Despite a sometimes lapse in formality during the warmer months, the Panama hat adds that touch, dresses one up a bit.

Darker options are often very elegant, and tow the line well between the seasons. For the follow up feature, I will explore the benefits of that route.

 

Photos by Bevin Elias