Post JFK, hat sales in the USA took a nose-dive, and most of us who were born after 1960 have little appreciation for these wonderful accoutrements. Â With the exception of the ubiquitous, and, in my opinion, dreadful baseball cap, hats are now rarely seen atop the heads of today's men; however, hats can provide a man with an opportunity for stylish self-expression. Â I am of the opinion that the perfect hat for the uninitiated tyro is the Montecristi "Panama" hat. Â It is not in any way pretentious or affected, and is the quintessential warm weather hat that, with a little research, can be bought for a reasonable price. Â Prior to the purchase of a Montecristi, I wouldn't have been seen dead in a hat; but in this hat I feel completely comfortable, and wander around the streets of Houston and NY without self-consciousness. Should you decide to purchase one of these straw hats, be warned that the market is over run with all types of hats claiming to be "authentic" Montecristi hats. Â These range from machine-made abominations of synthetic materials that share nothing in common with the authentic Montecristi, to the grueso, or thick, highland "Panama" or Cuenca hats, which are a less expensive alternative to the Montecristi, due to shorter per unit production time, courser materials, and fewer required weaving skills. You must first make certain that you are buying an authentic Montecristi hat; then, determine the grade of the hat that you desire, and can afford. Â There are no meaningful criteria for Montecristi hat grades, with the exception of weaves per inch. Â You will undoubtedly see many references to fino, fino fino, superfino, and extrafino. Â All of these grades are completely subjective, and have no meaning relative to the grades given to hats of other makers, or even to hats of the same maker. Â You will also see references to hat "vueltas", or concentric circles that can be seen in the crown of the hat if it is placed to the light. Â The term vuelta is erroneously used to indicate weave density (the hoped for impression being that the greater the number of vueltas, the greater the weave density), but really tells little of the measure of a hats fineness. The number of wpi is directly proportional to the amount of work that went into making the hat, as well as the cost of the paja toquilla (finer paja costs more). Â It also requires far more time to weave a hat that consists of an average wpi of 900 than one of 300, and this, too, adds to the value. Â Of course uniformity of weave, straw color, and skill of weaver are all integral in the creation of a fine hat. Some may charge an over-developed fastidiousness, but I think it worth the extra trouble to be sure that the hat is fully hand-woven with back-woven brim, and, if color treated, done so with sulfur smoke and not peroxides. Â Hand-blocking is also an imperative, IMHO. Â A true Montecristi hat is totally hand-made, and each has its own unique character. Cost varies proportionately with quality, but only up to a point. Â I have seen Montecristi hats for $300 and for $20,000.. Â Just remember when buying one of these treasures, they are all made in the same few villiages by a relatively small group of hat makers. Â An unblocked hat of extraordinary quality of say 1200 wpi, with excellent uniformity of weave, and good color sells in Ecuador for well under $1000. Â What could possibly push the price to $20,000? Â The name and reputation of the hat-blocker, and in my opinion, no blocker's service is worth $19,000+ . Â For those who are interested in quality Montecristi hats, check out The Panama Hat Company of the Pacific
. Â The company is run by Brent Black who is cosidered by many to be one of the finest hatters, as well a hat-blocker of near unrivaled talent. Â For what it's worth, I think his prices are somewhat high for total package of hat plus hand-blocking; however, for about $150. he will hand-block a hat purchased from another maker but will not guarantee the the result. Â For any who are interested in Montecristi hats of the finest quality Â (1100+ wpi) that can be had for well under $1000., contact me by email and I'll provide you with a contact in Ecuador who can assist you. Â I have it by trusted authority that my Montecristi hat could easily be found at high-end US shops for > $5000., yet I have far less than that invested. Â These hats at their finest are of heirloom quality, and your sons may one day wear them with pride. Â I neither have a financial interest in any of these companies, nor do I stand to profit from any referrals or sales.