Many individuals are unaware of the true origins of Panama hats. Authentic Panama hats are hand made in Ecuador. Toquilla straw is used to craft most Panama hats. The material is light in color, lightweight, and provides a high amount of UPV sun protection. This style of straw is very breathable which makes it a popular choice for Summer fashion. Weaving this material can take anywhere between one day to many months, a true skill and a testament to the quality of production.
Panama Hats, although made in Ecuador, gained its well known name for a variety of reasons. Many Americans, when trying to get to California during the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, first encountered this style of hat in Panama. This was one of the reasons the name stuck. This, along with Theodore Roosevelt being photographed wearing this style of hat while inspecting the Panama Canal, was another moment in history that contributed with the name being associated with Panama instead of Ecuador.
The process of making a Panama Hat is intricate and is an artform that has been handed down for generations within various Ecuadorian communities. From the harvesters choosing the highest grade of plant fibers to craft into toquilla straw, to the cured, dried, and bleached straw being given to a weaver who then uses their skilled eye to pick the best from each bundle. The process of hand-weaving in a circular motion while gradually adding more pieces of straw creates the top of the hat. Once the weaver reaches the brim, they leave the ends fringed out and raw. It is then sent to artisans with the special skill of brim finishing.
The entire process is one that should be celebrated and preserved. Remember when you wear your Panama Hat the artistic detail and skill required to craft the piece. You own a work of art.