The Panama hat, a classic that is back in fashion

Popular hats keep coming back into fashion. This also applies to the Panama hat, a light, summery hat made of straw. It has been made in Ecuador for centuries and exported for about 200 years. During some periods he was more loved than others, but he was never completely gone. In 2012, the Panama hat started to make a new appearance and that should not surprise anyone. This hat looks fresh rather than dated, is suitable for both men and women and can rightly be called a ‘modern classic’. However, it is also a hat with a special history. Item classification

  • Toquilla palm
  • Theodore Roosevelt and the popularization of the hat
  • Panama hats
  • Fashion from Hollywood


Toquilla palm

As mentioned, the Panama hat actually comes from Ecuador. It is woven from the leaves of the Toquilla palm , which grows in the tropical coastal area of Ecuador. The hat is actually called sombreros de paja toquilla’ , which means hat made of the straw of the toquilla palm.In this region people have been familiar with techniques for weaving things from this straw for millennia. Although earlier indigenous cultures made elongated headgear from it that certainly did not resemble a modern-day hat.

Theodore Roosevelt and the popularization of the hat

Early in the 19th century, American traders discovered the hat in South America and began exporting it to the United States and Europe. This was successful, after which production in Ecuador, and especially in the town of Cuenca, increased significantly. However, the hat’s real breakthrough came later.Between 1881 and 1914, excavation work was carried out on the Panama Canal, often in the scorching sun. To protect their heads, the employees wore the locally popular straw hat.When President Theodore Roosevelt visited the work in November 1906, he was photographed enthusiastically waving this hat. The photo went around the world. And even though the hat isn’t that clearly visible in this photo, everyone still wanted a Panama hat after this. Roosevelt often had such an effect on people.In the meantime, the name ‘Panama hat’ was also born. During the first half of the 20th century it had its heyday, with famous wearers such as Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill and later Harry Truman (the hat in the photo above belongs to Truman).

Panama hats

The original model of the Panama hat is made of ivory-colored straw and has a characteristic black band directly above the brim. It kind of reminds me of a fedora.However, this is by no means the only model available, nor is it the only color. There are different types available, both for men and women. What matters is that all these hats are made from the high-quality and flexible toquilla straw.In terms of quality, there are two types of Panama hats:

  • A ‘normal’ affordable version, usually from Cuenca. This is made by hand. However, manufacturing only takes two days, making the hat inexpensive.
  • An exclusive version from the town of Monticristie, also known as ‘Montechristi’s’ . This has a very high weave density, which means it will last a lifetime. However, this hat takes many months to weave, making it particularly pricey.


Fashion from Hollywood

Hollywood is known as a place where the sun always shines mercilessly. It is therefore no wonder that the renewed popularity of a light straw hat such as the Panama hat started there. An ever-growing list of movie stars have already been spotted wearing the hat, including Sean Connery, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.In the Netherlands, the Panama hat is now widely available for sale again. Anyone who wants to buy one should beware of very cheap Chinese counterfeits. This is usually made of paper and not straw.

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