Straw hats have gained popularity over the years, finding their way onto the priority list of many people’s warm-weather essentials. They bring an elegant boost to any outfit and are loved by all. Their lightweight materials make them unbeatable for those sunny, hot weather days. While distinguishing different straw hats is not that difficult in real life, even the most veteran hat-wearer can have a tough time explaining the technical differences between the options available today…...so here’s a breakdown of some of the most common types of straw.
Panama straw comes from the toquilla palm plant in South America. The name implies that the hat originates from Panama, but its true origin is in Ecuador. It is lightweight and breathable, which makes it ideal for hot, sunny weather. Panama hats were originally handwoven but they can also be made in factories. The quality of a Panama straw hat is determined by the finesse and tightness of the weave as well as the time spent in weaving a complete hat.
Shantung straw hats are made from a flat sheet woven by machine and blocked into various hat shapes. They were originally made from paper yarn referred to as “Washi” which is thin, light in weight and perfect for making hats. Washi became widely accepted for its similarity in looks to natural panama straw. It’s also very durable and cost-effective. Shantung hats constitute a significant chunk of the market share, comprising more than half the global hat sales.
Bangora straw is sometimes referred to as Bangkok weave or Bandera straw. Like Shantung hats, they are also made from paper yarn and feature a perpendicular weave pattern. Bangora hats are made on a machine and can stand up to the elements. These are a good option for keeping you cool during the summer months.
Toyo straw has its origins in Japan. It is made from rice paper yarns and is known for being lightweight, smooth and durable. Toyo straw hats are often shiny white or golden copper in color. They’re mostly machine-made, which makes them ideal for those looking for a great hat in the slightly medium/low price points.
When it comes to straw hats, Milan straw refers to the braiding/weaving technique rather than the material. As such, they can be woven from various materials ranging from hemp to synthetic plastics. Although most Milan straw hats are produced using synthetic fibers, some hat makers still produce the traditional finely-braided Milan straw hats from wheat straws. They primarily feature a golden hue and are designed to withstand significant wear and tear.
Seagrass hats are made up of several varieties of seagrass typically found along shallow coastal regions. During the hat-making process, the hat can either be left in its natural soft-textured green hue or glazed before being stiffened to a dark yellow color. Seagrass hats are loosely woven to offer optimum ventilation and they can also easily absorb moisture, making them a suitable accessory for hot summer afternoons.
The Bottom Line
As with other types of hats such as felt hats, the quality used by some makers of straw hats have no common source. Some straws feature stars while others use the X rating system. The type and tightness of the weave are good indicators of the quality of a straw hat, but so is the finish and trim package.