A Garden Hat-Trick
By Tom McDermott
As a boy, the closest I came to working in a garden was retrieving my errant tennis balls from Mrs. Evans’ victory garden, which was directly across from the brick wall where I leaned to play against a solid opponent. My family also spent several summers on a small farm in New Jersey, but the only things that still grew there were rhubarb, which we had for dessert nightly and sumac. Neither of those inspired me to garden.
But, that was long before we moved to a cottage on the edge of what was once a thriving gentleman’s farm in backcountry. Our cozy new home came with a weed-infested garden, surrounded by a deer fence. Those weeds were no deterrent to my wife Becky who, fortunately, inherited both a love of gardening and manual labor. With a little help from a resident handyman, those three-foot-high weeds were soon mulch.
While it’s true that I learned how to weed tomato and herb patches, and spread about seven million yards of gravel around, my biggest discovery was that gardening demands you wear really good hats. A discovery that fit my own motto – with a nod to Mr. Thoreau – “beware of enterprises requiring <old> clothes.”
Last summer, I dallied with an acrylic fedora, dubbed by Orvis the “Joe”. It’s a particularly wide-brimmed, packable model ($98). This hat kept the sun off my face and neck and allowed for excellent air-flow. The main problem was that the head gardener didn’t like it.
As with plants, there is a learning curve with straw hats. Some of the best and most affordable ones are actually made from paper or acrylic “straw”, or both. These are often referred to as Panamas, which, naturally, are made in China. Even some genuine straw Panamas are made in Ecuador. But, frankly, who cares, because some of the paper and acrylic hats are so affordable you can afford to experiment. So, this season I decided to work the market.
With a little effort at bargain hunting, I found three new hats to join my “Joe”.
Wonderful Fashion’s Short Brim “Straw” Fedora ($11) is made entirely of paper. It is light, the sizing runs small – get an XL if you usually wear L. The short brim allows this model to double as a city hat, perfect with a linen or poplin suit. Not great for sun cover.
SunDay Afternoon’s “Havana” ($32) medium was too small and the X/XL too big, but some folded newspaper placed inside the band solved that latter problem. This model is on the heavy side, so performance in hot summer sun is a question.
The Furtalk UPF50 Braid Straw Panama ($17) is also made from paper. It has a wide brim and adjustable sizing. This hat comes in one-size. XLs can forget it. The Furtalk is a great value and the best all-round of the three hats.
Total seasonal hat cost: $60. But, you only need one.
<Note>: I’m a big shop-local fan, but must admit Amazon Prime proved to be a convenient shipping method once the hats returned to shape from a tight fit in the box. The return label is easy to use, and you receive an immediate credit as soon as UPS logs the package. Good news for those seeking proper sizing.