Classy Travel Hat: the Roll-up Panama
May 07, 2008
If you travel, even just for a short car trip, and like to do so with some kind of style, you might want to bring a real hat along. They look good and work good. A Panama is especially nice in the summer sun and heat.
But bringing a hat box along to keep a good hat safe can be ridiculous or at least annoying. It takes up a lot of space.
The summertime answer? A roll-up Panama.
The roll-up is the traditional Panama. It's been around forever. Its classic name is the Optimo style. It has a ridge along the center of the crown. Some non-roll-up's are also done in the Optimo style---they will be crisp, firm and have more "starch" in them. A true roll-up Optimo will be quite soft yet it will still have body and snap.
What you do is snap the brim down all around then push one side of the crown into the other. Now you have a flat hat. Then roll it loosely.
At first glance you might think this is an awkward look. But it'll grow on you. Watch some period movies---they all lean on this style. I recently watched Bill Murray's "The Razor's Edge" again. His hat.
For my recent 12-day roadtrip I bought a thrifty version of this hat from Panama Hats Direct off of eBay for $40 delivered. They also have a fancy website where they sell much nicer high-end hats. Mine has a coarser Cuenca ("kwenka") weave. They're good folks. Check em out. Here's their eBay store: http://stores.ebay.com/Panama-Hats-Direct, and here's their regular website: http://www.panama-hats-direct.com.
You're probably supposed to store your hat in a suitable tube. I think they're offered in bamboo sometimes---nice. I did my whole trip with one carry-on so I nestled my folded hat into a concavity in my packed clothes. It seemed to work out OK. After a few hours of being folded my hat would take a half day to calm down into a snappy shape. For the first hour or so its brim was kind of rumpled. The hat makers say that if you fold your hat often it will eventually lose some shape. I suppose the best models hold up better. Who knows. I only travel in summer a time or two a year so it should be OK.
It was neat ordering this hat. I thought it would be a standard eBay or online exchange. I received a first email in broken English saying that my extra-large size might not be in stock, but if it wasn't they'd make one up for me and get it to me in time for my trip so not to worry. Hmmm! Then I got a couple more emails saying it was on the way. My hat arrived on time...in a stout, liberally-pasted shut custom-fit cardboard hat-box mailer---no tape. I had to cut it open. The box was covered with dozens of stamps...direct from Ecuador. The real deal!
I'm a bit peeved that I didn't get any pics of this hat on the trip. A friend liked it and wore it some, too. (I'm only halfway up to snuff as a journalist/photojournalist, I know, but that's what you get sometimes with DIY.)
When I went to the fancy vintage club in L.A., the doorman said as he let me in, "Nice Optimo, sir!"
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