Friday, 8 June 2012

STYLE@LXG: The Panama

If you're spending a lot of the time in the great outdoors, or indeed you live close to the Equator, you're going to need something to protect your crowning glory from the sun.

You need a suitable piece of headgear - and one that still exudes an air of stylish manliness. 

Baseball caps are fine - in their own specific, laid-back setting. But if you are to maintain that gentlemanly air, just walking down the high street, or attending an afternoon business meeting, or indeed wining and dining your better half at an exquisite open-air eaterie - you've got to up the stakes and go for a much classier option.

There are really only two choices here – the panama and the boater. Both have connotations that put off most men, whether of The Man from Del Monte or the Chap from the Boarding School...

The classic Panama, as worn by The Man, is stark white with a navy blue ribbon. Very sharp, very smart. But if we want something a bit more casual – suitable to odd jacket and chinos rather than a white linen suit – we can change the ribbon to a more casual brown, café au lait or mossy green.

Then wear the hat suitably so that the body tends towards tan rather than cream. For it will cook slowly in the sun, darkening the colour. There are models that are already more of an off-white, but they tend to be made with coarser straw and take away too much of the elegance of a good panama. Plus the other advantage of wearing the hat in, is it will become personal: moulded to the shape of one’s skull and dented in line with one’s misuse of it. This too will remove the air of starched men in banana republics.

If it looks a little dry or liable to crack through overexposure to the sun, give it a spritz of water inside and out. This should be done with any panama after a month or so of use.

The finest panama (made of course in Ecuador, not Panama) is the Montecristo. It is the finest because the leaf has been split into the greatest number of strips, creating a particularly tight weave. It is this weave that makes it flexible and therefore rollable. However, if you desire a more casual panama hat, go for the cheaper model with the larger weave. Or, indeed, the cheaper folding model with the distinctive line across its crown where the hat is folded. Both options will scale back the formality of what has to be a dominant summer hat.
  Again, as previously stated, it does take a certain air of confidence to carry off a Panama. Don't feel overwhelmed by it, or apologetic and shy. Your accessories are what you make of them, so wear that Panama at a slight angle, and stroll along as if you're the only one walking down that street...    

JSM