I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral of the summer.
~Violette Leduc, Mad in Pursuit
Labor Day officially brings the curtain down on my favorite season; fortunately, there are, in Kentucky at least, 3 more weeks of Indian summer, I plan to revel in every hot, humid, sticky moment.
However reluctant I am to let go of summer, I understand that it is time to put away the white accessories. White shoes, you can have them. I inherited my father’s extremely long feet. Daddy claims to be able to span a piano keyboard octave with his big toe and pinky toe. How does he know this? Why would he admit this? One would hope one’s father would show a little more dignity. I don’t know about you, but I smell bourbon. Anyway, whatever talents come with the ancestral feet, our boats are too long for white shoes any time of the year. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have gone on to do well at Wimbleton.
White hats, on the other hand…This was the year for white hats. The summer was hot and so were light colored straws. When we were there in July, New York was a sea of Panama hats. The story of the Panama hat is interesting in that it begins with a punch line. Where did the Panama hat originate? Pay attention, this could be a trick question — along the lines of who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb. The Panama Hat, actually originated in and continues to be produced in Ecuador. During the gold rush of the mid 1800’s, prospectors flocked to California by way of the Isthmus of Panama. There they purchased hats imported from Ecuador. At that time, the hats came to be known by the name of their point of purchase rather than their place of origin. In any event, the Panama hat, which by rights should be known as “The Ecuador Hat”, became very popular.
One unwitting promoter of this style hat was President Theodore Roosevelt who appeared in the newspaper wearing a fino. The news photo catapulted the Panama into the spot of “must have accessory” of the day. In 1925 Turkey banned the fez and mandated the use of Panama hats. By 1944 the Panama had become Ecuador’s primary export.
A Panama hat is made from toquilla, a strong supple fiber harvested from a palm-like plant found in Ecuador’s coastal lowlands. The Ecuadorian artisans are considered to be among the world’s finest weavers. The weave of a high quality Panama is said to be so tight that the hat can be used to transport water. One top grade hat can take months to weave and when finished, is pressed at least 5 times to set it’s shape.
Like the top hat (see post “More on Top Hats” ) the Panama hat is traditionally worn by men –the coolest of men, I might add. Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Charlie Chan, Sean Connery and Mick Jagger to name a few. If Sam Sheppard and Liam Neeson don’t have them, I’d be surprised. Atticus Finch wore one in To Kill a Mockingbird, Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. Before this summer’s unisex Panama hat boom, one would occasionally find a woman in the cool cool shade of a Panama. Madonna, Lauren Bacall, and Whitney Houston have been spotted in them. Sarah Jessica Parker wore a Panama style fedora by Hermes in last year’s Sex and the City Movie. (see post Sex and the City and the Hats).
Madonna can pull off a man’s hat because she’s Madonna. For those who seek the ex-pat look in a more traditionally feminine style I suggest, Symphony in White or, for an even more feminine style, Purely Elegant, Summer Wedding or our most popular Simply Elegant have the tropical feel as well as romantic lines. If you’re so lucky as to be escorted by a man sporting a Panama hat, any of these designs perfectly completes the picture.
I don’t deny summer is drawing to a close, however I refuse to let it go easily. I for one, plan to be dragged into autumn wearing a cool white hat; screaming for iced tea and kicking my great big long bare feet.
by Jan Masters Yon