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Weaving the Finest Panama Hat in History

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How much would you pay for the finest Panama hat in the world, handmade by the finest Panama hat-maker in the world? $5000? $20,000? $50,000? It’s a real question hanging in the air, as a Hawaiian-based hat dealer with contacts in Ecuador (where Panama hats are made, despite their traditionally misleading name) struggles to price the latest masterpiece from the hands of Simon Espinal, an unassuming 47-year-old artisan who spent eight months weaving an accessory the likes of which the world has never seen before.

The triumphant final product is described as “a creamy-white, silky-fine masterpiece averaging an astounding 4,000 pin-neat herringbone weaves per square inch; a weave so fine you'd need a jeweler's loupe to count the rows." As NPR reports, hat dealer Brent Black commissioned Espinal and promised him a steady salary over the long period of months as well as bonuses and a cut of the profits, which alone should stretch into five figures. He made the request not out of any desire for record-breaking profits, but out of curiosity—he wanted to know the true extent of Espinal’s unparalleled skill, and Espinal accepted in order to find out himself.

The extent of Espinal’s accomplishment is hard to grasp, even when compared to the usual standards for an extraordinary Panama hat. There are no enforced guidelines for grading Panama hats, as quality standards vary from one dealer to another. Even the commonly used term super fino, under which all of Espinal’s approximate three-hats-per-year output falls, is an unreliable metric by which to determine a subjective quality grade. The most objective measurement is the fineness of weave, or how many threads of toquilla palm straw are contained within a square inch of the hat. Black considers a hat with a weave count under 300 not worth owning, and one with a weave count over 900 to be exceptional. This new hat is off the charts. If records were kept of such things, Espinal would only be breaking his own: the previous best hats all hovered in the 3000 weaves-per-square-inch range, and most of them were Espinal’s creations as well.

Espinal’s hat was one-of-a-kind at the time of its completion and it looks to remain that way. He has no plans to ever replicate his feat, citing the physical strain on his eyes, as well as the intense mental concentration required to maintain focus on such an unfathomably delicate task. Espinal remains faithful to a cultural and family tradition, an art taught to him by his father Senovio. Until his death, Senovio was considered the finest weaver in Montechristi; now, the torch has passed to Simon. Black’s greatest hope is that Espinal’s masterpiece will end up in a museum, where it can join other truly great works of art.

[h/t: NPR]

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This Just In
Target Expands Its Clothing Options to Fit Kids With Special Needs
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Target

For kids with disabilities and their parents, shopping for clothing isn’t always as easy as picking out cute outfits. Comfort and adaptability often take precedence over style, but with new inclusive clothing options, Target wants to make it so families don’t have to choose one over the other.

As PopSugar reports, the adaptive apparel is part of Target’s existing Cat & Jack clothing line. The collection already includes items made without uncomfortable tags and seams for kids prone to sensory overload. The latest additions to the lineup will be geared toward wearers whose disabilities affect them physically.

Among the 40 new pieces are leggings, hoodies, t-shirts, bodysuits, and winter jackets. To make them easier to wear, Target added features like diaper openings for bigger children, zip-off sleeves, and hidden snap and zip seams near the back, front, and sides. With more ways to put the clothes on and take them off, the hope is that kids and parents will have a less stressful time getting ready in the morning than they would with conventionally tailored apparel.

The new clothing will retail for $5 to $40 when it debuts exclusively online on October 22. You can get a sneak peek at some of the items below.

Adaptive jacket from Target.
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Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

[h/t PopSugar]

All images courtesy of Target.

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Big Questions
Why Do Shorts Cost as Much as Pants?
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Shorts may feel nice and breezy on your legs on a warm summer’s day, but they’re not so gentle on your wallet. In general, a pair of shorts isn’t any cheaper than a pair of pants, despite one obviously using less fabric than the other. So what gives?

It turns out clothing retailers aren’t trying to rip you off; they’re just pricing shorts according to what it costs to produce them. Extra material does go into a full pair of pants but not as much as you may think. As Esquire explains, shorts that don’t fall past your knees may contain just a fifth less fabric than ankle-length trousers. This is because most of the cloth in these items is sewn into the top half.

Those same details that end up accounting for most of the material—flies, pockets, belt loops, waist bands—also require the most human labor to make. This is where the true cost of a garment is determined. The physical cotton in blue jeans accounts for just a small fraction of its price tag. Most of that money goes to pay the people stitching it together, and they put in roughly the same amount of time whether they’re working on a pair of boot cut jeans or some Daisy Dukes.

This price trend crops up across the fashion spectrum, but it’s most apparent in pants and shorts. For example, short-sleeved shirts cost roughly the same as long-sleeved shirts, but complicated stitching in shirt cuffs that you don’t see in pant legs can throw this dynamic off. There are also numerous invisible factors that make some shorts more expensive than nearly identical pairs, like where they were made, marketing costs, and the brand on the label. If that doesn’t make spending $40 on something that covers just a sliver of leg any easier to swallow, maybe check to see what you have in your closet before going on your next shopping spree.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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