Not All Straw Hats Created Equally
The six straw hats in this photo represent six different types of straw used for making straw hats. Starting in the bottom left corner and working clockwise are shantung straw, panama straw, sisol straw, baku straw, sea grass and milan straw.
Spend any time browsing straw hats online or in our shop and you will notice that there are several different types of straw listed in the descriptions. While it is not difficult to see and feel the distinctions between them in real life; many people don’t know the technical differences in the hats’ weaves and construction.
Using the photo to the right, let’s take a closer look at 6 different types of straw used in many of our summer hats.
SHANTUNG: In the bottom left corner of the photo you will see part of the crown and brim of a white straw hat. This is shantung straw. Shantung is usually a light-weight straw that is bleached to an almost pure white, about as white as the meat of an almond. Shantung straw hats are made from a flat woven sheet and blocked into fedora shapes and optimos. The off-white color helps reflect the sun light, but the weave isn’t usually as tight on shantung hats as it is on others, so it is still possible to get burned with prolonged activity outdoors. It is quite maleable, but shantung can be easily damaged by rain and crushing, unless otherwise noted on the hat.
PANAMA: Panama straw is a catch all phrase that most people say when referring to a straw hat. A true panama straw hat, like the one above the shantung hat on the left side of the photo, has a weave that radiates out from a circle in the center of the crown. The inside of a panama hat is stamped with brown ink declaring the hat was woven in Ecuador. Different types of straw may be used and woven with varying degrees of tightness as well as vent patterns. Some panama hats can be rolled up for storeage. Others will be destroyed by any act of crushing or rolling. It depends on the hat and its manufacturer. To read more about the history of panama hats or how to grade them, please see our previous blog posts.
SISOL: The top left corner of the photo features a sisol straw fedora. Sisol is so light weight that it makes feathers feel leaden. Highly refined and delicate, sisol straw fedoras are prized more for wearing at special events than for daily use. They are very suseptible to rain and nearly any impact. Yet, they are also nearly works of art and so light you can wear one all day without noticing any presure on your dome.
BAKU: Baku straw hats are so refined the straw is first used to form geometric shapes in the weave. It, too, is extremely lightweight like the sisol straw. Genuine baku straw hats are among the most expensive straw hats at Hats Plus. As much art as headwear, most people save their baku straw hats for special events. Water and rough handling is baku’s greatest enemy.
SEA GRASS: Heading down a notch to the middle right-hand side hat is sea grass. For as expensive as baku is, sea grass tends to be inexpensive. Made of actual sea grass from the ocean, this type of straw hat is rarely bleached and often green hued. Frequently, sea grass hats have a more relaxed personality with open weaves for better ventilation and less shade. That is not always the case, but common enough. Usually fairly durable, sea grass straw hats are good for most any occassion.
MILAN: Milan straw hats, like the one in the bottom right corner, are more defined by their construction than material. A milan straw hat has many horizontal layers like clapboard siding on a house. The straw itself can be made of anything from paper to different plastics. The layering process can make these among the heaviest of the straw hats but also among the most durable. Some, certainly not all, milan straw hats are packable. Most can withstand rougher handling than other straws. Milan straw hats also tend to offer pretty good solar protection, too.
With any luck this helps to better distinguish the differences between the straw hats that are available. As always, we welcome your questions and comments.