You can’t be fashionable and not have a Panama hat. You can shop for one at Puerto Rico’s Ole Curiosidades which is located at 105 Fortaleza in San Juan. Panama hats are typically made from the leaves of the Carludovica palmate, a plant known in local circles as jipijapa palm.
Panama hats are de rigueur in the Caribbean. These hats are breathable (sweat doesn’t build up in the hair), lightweight (the wearer won’t feel as if he/she has a ton of bricks on his/her head), and light-colored (to better reflect heat). Wear them like tropical fedoras especially during the summer.
The Origin of “Panama” Hats
The ones sold in Ole Curiosidades are made of material that has been hand-woven in the South American country of Ecuador. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, these straw hats were shipped initially to Panama before being brought to other destinations in Asia and Europe, hence the name “Panama hats.” The weaving of these hats has been recognized as a traditional art and appears on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt can perhaps be credited with popularizing Panama hats after wearing one in 1904 when he visited the Panama Canal construction site. Film stars have also made these stylish hats the accessory of choice. Selma Blair, Jon Hamm, Diane Kruger, Tom Cruise, and January Jones are only some of the celebrities who have taken to wearing Panama hats.
Incredibly velvety and smooth to the touch, a Panama hat can go for as much as $6,000 at Ole Curiosidades. Of course you can get one for $60 but it definitely won’t have the same almost weightless, silk-like quality. Customized Panama hats cost more because of the material used to make them. And speaking of making them, each Panama hat at Ole is hand-made, hence its expensive price tag.
You can have a traditional Puerto Rican-style hat or the fedora type. Panama hats, by the way, are almost always in subtle earth shades, so don’t expect anything in “loud” colors like bright yellow, hot pink, blood red or orange. Panama hats are delightful accessories you can wear all year round, so invest in one especially if you are buying accessories and souvenirs in Puerto Rico.
How to Have the Best Panama Hat
Hats that are woven more finely cost more since thin straw takes longer to weave so take a closer look at the hat before buying it. The rule of thumb is simple: the finer the hat’s weave, the better.
Even-ness of the weave is also important. Good quality Panama hats have less weave irregularities and therefore cost more. Typically, straw is woven into regular and straight rows with no knots or gaps in the weave.
The finishing touch of genuine leather around the hat also increases the price of a Panama hat, but remember you are paying for quality. A leather sweatband is individually cut and fitted to the hat, each one sewn by hand.
Why Ole Curiosidades Hats are Worth It
In spite of the fact that the hats you can buy at Ole Curiosidades are a bit on the pricey side, it has still garnered 5 star ratings on Yelp. Customers have raved about how hospitable and friendly the owner Guillermo and his staff are. Moreover, they fit and size the hat while you wait so you’re always assured of the perfect fit. If you’re ever in San Juan, make sure to drop by this little shop – you’ll be glad that you did!