Panama hats are, without a doubt, one of the most elegant, comfortable, and luxurious hats out there.
A high-quality Panama hat can sell for thousands of dollars. The finest, hand-woven Panama hat is estimated to be around 100,000 USD!
Surprisingly, Panama hats are very misunderstood.
So what’s the story behind this lavish and expensive hat?
Does it really come from Panama? And what makes it so costly?
Keep reading to find out all about the fascinating Panama hats.
1. What is a Panama Hat?
A Panama hat is a wide-brimmed summer hat made by weaving together the straws of the toquilla palm tree. They are usually the natural color of straw. The color can vary from off-white to beige. The base of the crown has a black band usually made with dyed straw.
These hats are comfortable and lightweight, making them ideal for summer wear and many other occasions.
What differentiates Panama hats from all other hats is the material from which they are made and the manufacturing process.
2. Panama Hat Originated in Which Country?
Panama hat originated in Ecuador.
Ecuador is a country in South America with a long history of weaving.
Hat weaving and export was a major industry in Ecuador in the 17th and 18th centuries. Even today, most of the original Panama hats come from Ecuador. There are a few other countries that make Panama hats from Ecuadorian straw. These include Mexico, the United States, and Panama itself.
The hand-weaving of Panama hats is a fascinating and laborious process. In 2012 UNESCO listed the hand-weaving of Panama hats in the Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
3. Why Do They Call Panama Hat?
Panama hats were exported from Ecuador to Panama. Panama distributed the hats worldwide. This made many people think that the hats originated from Panama. The name “Panama hats” caught on.
During the 1800s Gold Rush, many people traveled to California through Panama. These people bought beautiful and unique hats from Panama. They called these Panama hats, spreading the misconception that the hat comes from Panama.
But the late US president Theodore Roosevelt played the most prominent part in naming the Panama hats. In 1906, President Roosevelt wore a Panama hat while visiting a construction site on the Panama canal. A photo of the president with the hat made it into the papers, and the press quickly called it a “Panama” hat. There was no going back now
4. Other Names for a Panama Hat
Ecuadorians call the Panama hat by it’s original name “Sombreros the Paja Toquilla’. Other names for the Panama hat include Ecuadorian hat, toquilla straw hat, and jipijapa hat.
5. Who Makes the Best Panama Hat?
Artisans from Ecuador make the best Panama hats. Most believe that hand-woven Panama hats are superior to factory-produced ones.
And hand-woven hats are more expensive. The price is not surprising, given the hard labor it takes to produce just one hat.
Today the best hand-woven Panama hats in the world come from the town of Montecristi, in Ecuador. A coastal village called Calle Pile in Ecuador also produces great hand-made Panama hats.
Best factory-produced Panama hats also come from Ecuador. Cuenca, a city in Ecuador, is renowned for its hat-making factories that focus on quality over quantity.
6. History of Panama Hat
The story of Panama hats started in Ecuador in the 17th century. The hats first became popular among the local crowd.
Many people admired the elegance of Panama hats, and the hat industry took off fast. By the 19th century, Panama hats were in high demand worldwide. By the mid-1900s, Panama hats became Ecuador’s top export.
A popular name in the history of Panama hats is Manuel Alfaro. He was a 19th-century Spanish entrepreneur who immensely contributed to the Panama hat industry.
Even construction workers building the Panama canal used these hats to shield themselves from sunlight.
The practice of weaving Panama hats is passed down from generation to generation. Even today, many families in Ecuador consider hat weaving a primary source of income.
Panama hats continued gaining popularity in the 20th century. Many politicians, actors, and singers started wearing Panama hats, and the hats remained popular. Some famous films that featured Panama hast include Casablanca, The Silence of the Lambs, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Hand-weaving a Panama hat is an intricate process with over 30 steps, and it can take about eight months to finish one hat.
However, hat makers soon industrialized the process because of the high demand. Now, most Panama hats come from modern factories where machines weave the hats.
7. Who Invented the Panama Hat?
The Ecuadorian hats weavers invented the Panama hat. They started weaving these hats in the 1600s in the small town of Montecristi.
8. What is the Purpose of a Panama Hat?
The primary purpose of a Panama hat is to keep the sun off your head and face. But like all other hats, they also make you look stylish.
9. What is the Difference Between Fedora and Panama Hat?
A Fedora and a Panama hat can look very similar. What differentiates these hats is the material. Genuine Panama hats are always woven from Toquilla straw, while Fedora hats can be made of leather, felt, and other materials.
Click here to learn more about distinguishing a Fedora from a Panama hat.
10. What Materials Are Used to Make Panama Hats?
Authentic Panama hats are made with Toquilla straw. Toquilla palm, also known as the Carludovica palmate plant, is a common tree on the coast of Ecuador.
Farmers cultivate the plant and then harvest the stems. Next, they separate the outer skin and the fiber. Then they boil the fiber to remove chlorophyll pigments. This fiber is what the hat weavers use to make the Panama hats.
Today, there are many imitation Panama hats. These are made with synthetic materials and must not be confused with authentic Panama hats.
11. Are All Panama Hats Foldable?
No, all Panama hats are not foldable. Check if your Panama hat is foldable by looking at the brim size, weave, and hat style.
- Brim size: You shouldn’t fold wide-brimmed Panama hats. Folding can make the brims lose shape.
- Weave: Hats with a fine weave are foldable. They are flexible and will soon return to their original shape once you unfold them.
- Hat style: Fedora and Optimo style Panama hats are great for folding.
Only fold your hat during traveling and unfold the hat as soon as possible. If your hat is misshapen after unfolding, you can steam regain the original shape.
12. Do Panama Hat Protect You From Sun?
Yes, a Panama hat is perfect for protecting you from strong sunlight.
The fine weaves of the Panama hat make it an ideal sun shield.
The hat is also very breathable and lightweight making it a perfect summer wear accessory.
The planter style offers the most protection from the sun because it has the widest brim.
13. Can You Wear a Panama Hat in the winter?
A Panama hat is mainly a sun hat and is not suited for winter. Snow and rain can cause a buildup of moisture on the hat. Too much humidity can make your hat lose its shape.
14. Is the Panama Hat Still Used?
Yes, Panama hats are trendy even today. Their unique, natural look made Panama hats a timeless fashion accessory.
Today, Panama hats are popular with hat-lovers, tourists, and even celebrities.
15. Who Should Wear a Panama Hat?
Both men and women can wear Panama hats. It’s a timeless hat that suits any personality and comes in many styles.
Just make sure you buy the correct hat size. A too large hat can fall off or blow away, and a small hat will be tight and uncomfortable.
16. How, Where, and When to Use Panama Hats
The best thing about Panama hats is that they go with any outfit.
A Panama hat can be elegant, casual, or sporty. You can pair the hat with your favorite outfit, and you are good to go.
Panama hats are great for a beach day. They are light and keep the sun away from your face. A Panama hat is also perfect for a sporting event or even a casual stroll.
Panama hats are also travel-friendly; you can easily pack a Panama hat with your luggage. The hats are flexible, and you can roll and place the hat inside a hat tube. You’ll never have to leave behind your hat when you are going on vacation.
If you want to clean your Panama hat, you can gently wipe it down with either a dry cloth or a wet wipe. Don’t wash the hat with soap and water as this can damage the fine weaves.
17. What to Look for Before Buying a Panama Hat
Be aware that not all hats labeled as Panama hats are original. Here are the details you must look for before buying a Panama hat.
- Country of manufacture: The easiest way to check if a Panama hat is authentic is to ensure it comes directly from Ecuador.
- Price: High-quality Panama hats are expensive but durable and will last many years if you take good care of them. Always go for quality, not price.
- Straw quality: High-quality hats will have evenly colored, fine, and identical straw.
- Weave: An even, dense weave indicates a high-quality Panama hat. The Panama hats with the tightest weaves are called superfinos. One of these hats can cost you over 1000 USD.
18. Best Panama Hats
1. Panama Straw Hats for Women
Panama hats are perfect to wear during any activity. The material is durable and lightweight, making it an ideal accessory in hot weather or on long journeys where you need something that won’t weigh down your head but still provide some cover from the sun’s rays instead!
- Material: paper straw
- Closure: elastic closure
- For: women
- Occasions: perfect for all activities
- Features: upf50+
- Features: wide brim, interior elastic sweatband
2. Toquilla Panama Hat For Men
Toquilla straw hats are perfect for men who want a maritime feel with their outfit. These handmade Panama Citypieces come in different sizes so you can find one to match any mood or occasion!
- Material: toquilla straw
- Closure: straw closure
- For: men
- Occasions: perfect for all activities
- Features: upf50+
- Features: Handwoven in Ecuador
Panama hats are timeless, elegant, and sophisticated hats that fit with any attire.
Their unique history and manufacturing process make Panama hats one of the most interesting hats ever made.
Everyone has their favorite hat style. And whether you like small brims, wide brims, or round crowns, a Panama hat won’t disappoint.
Also, with Panama hats, it’s always quality over price. A high-quality authentic Panama hat won’t come cheap. But it can withstand a lot and last for ages.