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Shantung "straw" hats

Discussion in 'Hats' started by DRB, Feb 16, 2011.

  1. I found this interesting reading as I have been contemplating purchasing a straw hat. Please indulge me as I post the following information from:


    "Since the first use of Shantung (aka Shantung Panama) to make hats, the material remains widely a mystery. Many people believe that shantung hats are made of natural straw. It is actually made out of a high performance paper which is rolled into a yarn to imitate straw. Furthermore, many people believe that shantung paper yarn is made out of rice paper. Rice paper is actually a misnomer. Currently, there are no papers being made out of rice. Although, for the size papers made out of Kozo, Gampi and Mitsumata, rice starch was traditionally used. (This is probabaly where the name "rice paper" comes from.) Kozo, Gampi and Mitsumata were originally used to make the high performance paper. The paper was named "Washi" by the Japanese who perfected the technique in 610 AD after Korean Buddhist monks learned the Chinese technique and introduced it to Japan. (The Chinese invented the technique of making this paper during the first century.)

    Washi literally meaning "Japanese Paper," became famous worldwide for it's unique characteristics. Washi is thinner and lighter in weight yet stronger than any other paper. In recent years, because of quantity, availability, and tensile strength, washi is now mainly being produced with the Manila Hemp plant. (Musa Textilis, Abaca) The Manila Hemp plant is native to the Philippine Islands, but it can also be found in other parts of the world. (ie. Central America, Indonesia, Australia, Borneo, etc.) The majority of the world's production still remains largely in the Philippine Islands.

    In the mid-1900's, natural panama straw became scarce and hat manufacturer were in desperate need of finding a replacement. Washi was then introduced as an alternative and was perfect for making hats. Wanting a better name for the hat industry, "Washi" was renamed to "Shantung Panama". It quickly became widely accepted because of its similarity in looks to the natural panama straw. It was also very durable, light weight, and cost effective. Today, cowboy hat manufacturers mainly use shantung to make hats. Shantung hats now command more than 65% of the hat market."
  2. fmw

    fmw One Too Many

    Thanks for that. I have a couple shantung hats and I agree with the assessment. cost effective, light weight and durable. I also have a plastic hat (milan braid) and a couple panamas. All of them make efffective hats. While I have no issue with the use of shantung, I hate the use of terms like "genuine" shantung "panama" or 100% shantung. Terms like these attempt to make paper straw something more than it is when, truthfully, it is a perfectly good hat material and should be called "manufactured" straw or Philippino Straw or something that doesn't seem like a lie. No need to lie about a perfectly useful hat material. Great post. Thanks, again.
  3. You make an EXCELLENT point about the veracity of material description!! Call it what it is, don't try to make be something else :)
    Thanks for posting that VERY informative info. Just shows a good hat material is just that ! No need to make it out to be something else :)

    as always, Onward thru the Fog :)
  4. fmw

    fmw One Too Many

    That's another good article. Modern day milan hats are made out of anything but wheat straw (with the exception of Optimo, apparently.) I would prefer that they clean up that description as well. My milan hat is braided from a synthetic polymer, not straw. But at least Stetson doesn't call it straw. They call it "milan braid." I'd rather have it called polymer braid or synthetic braid or "duralast" braid or something other than a material that was straw historically. That way, Optimo could make their true milan hats and not have to describe the difference.

    Besides, in my neck of the woods, wheat straw is something used to cover stall floors, not something to put on your head. I don't understand the fascination with wheat straw. We have bales of it. Anybody want to braid it?
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2011
  5. :D:)
  6. I agree, While I am sure that paper can be made quite strong, I do admit that I learned something when reading that article. Stetson Shantungs are beautiful, but I am looking for something special. It helped me decide which hat to get. Just ordered an Optimo Milan. ETA: March 19.

    Here is an honest, up front sales pitch:
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2011
  7. fmw

    fmw One Too Many

    I can't help but wonder what kind of value is built into a $210 paper hat. The Optimo should be excellent.
  8. Lefty

    Lefty I'll Lock Up

    Congrats. I think you're going to love it.
  9. Thank you, friends............
  10. How does the paper straw fare in practice? I've seen a few very nice 'beater' 'Panama' styles made out of it in the last few years, but always shied away in the fear it would end up papier mache on my head if I got caught unawares by a light shower. Naturally, if I'm expecting rain, I would wear paper or straw, which is where my polymer hats come into play....
  11. fmw

    fmw One Too Many

    My shantung western hat has gotten wet. That has caused some mis-shaping but that can be restored easily enough. The paper hats are coated with some sort of substance that stiffens them and also adds some water repellencey (but not a lot.) The substance is also pressed or ironed into the weave and that makes them fairly smooth. They don't look as good as a fine panama but they do look as good as the coarse ones.
  12. Lefty

    Lefty I'll Lock Up

    Agreed. The plastic coated paper hats are far more durable than natural panamas or milans.
  13. JimWagner

    JimWagner Practically Family

    Maybe it's because of what they're coated with sealing them up, but my Shantung hats don't breath particularly well. Makes them hotter to wear than natural panamas, at least the coarser weave panamas.
  14. fmw

    fmw One Too Many

    I'm sure you're right there, Jim. I have a brisa panama that is almost like wearing a mesh. It breathes really well. The coated shantungs do not.
  15. Chasseur

    Chasseur Call Me a Cab

    I've had one of those Stetson shantung paper hats for the past several years, its cheap and its keeps the sun off. After about 2 years of wearing the crown started to crack and break apart so I retired it to be usef for a garden hat. But it was less than $40 including shipping so I cannot complain.
  16. I find it interesting how folks keep refering to the Shantung paper fiber hats as "cheaper" than genuine Panama's. I've been looking at several major web sites selling hats and most "Shantung" fedora styled hats are not to be found for UNDER $50.00 w/shpg. ! PB sells 2 grades of Brisa weave Cuenca Panamas for UNDER $50.00 ( plus shpg.) :) At that price, you'd actually be ahead ( sorry for the unintended pun :) ) going the "real" route as far as a Panama :)
  17. fmw

    fmw One Too Many

    Here's a shantung Stetson that cost me $24 delivered.


    This stetson Cuenca Panama (yes it is marked woven in Ecuador) arrived at $45 delivered and isn't a brisa. Fino and beautiful? No, but it is a real Panama for under $50 including shipping and it is quite serviceable.


    Both were purchased brand new.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2011
  18. I was merely refering to an average price on 5 major hat retailers. PB has a good photo of both of the styles of weave found in the hats woven in Cuenca. That Stetson is a Brisa weave which is the coarser of the two. Not ALL Brisa weaves are real open. If you look hard enough, you can always find things at a lower price. Was merely pointing out that REAL Panamas are not as expensive as many believe :)
  19. delectans

    delectans Call Me a Cab

    Many well taken viewpoints on the subject, and I will share my thoughts also.

    As with many other natural and man-made fibers used in hatmaking, the term Shantung has been misused, and one could argue mis-represented, in the marketing of such hats.

    Just as with other fibers, I believe there is a wide range of quality in hats made from the Shantung material, from inexpensive, heavily shellacked and stiff lids to the beautiful and finely made $200 examples by Borsalino and Stetson which very closely resemble fino fino Panamas in appearance and texture.

    My wife bought me the Stetson 'Breakers' Shantung last Summer as a surprise, because she liked the design and feel of the hat when she was at our local haberdashery. I wore it for much of the Summer and found that, while I liked the lines, and soft, Montecristi-like supple feel of the hat in hand, the tightness of the weave, and perhaps the material itself, did not allow the hat to be as breathable as I was anticipating. This also applies to the higher grade Montecristi Panamas, I believe, though I have not had personal field experience to validate this. My vintage Stetson Montecristi is of a very fine weave, but I have sentimental reasons for not wearing it "in the field".

    Stetson 'Breakers' Shantung.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2011
    KarlCrow likes this.

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