The Panama hat is an icon of style. History has a way of repeating itself, but this timeless hat has never gone out of fashion. This hat has survived and evolved through time, indeed. Known by the intricate woven signature patterns, the Panama hat is light, delicate and flexible while holding true to the strength and resiliency of the woven straw they are created from. The true Panama hats are not lined, but rather, often provide a band of fabric around the inner rim. This classic hat not only blocks the sun, but allows the air to enter. The perfect equation of a warm season hat.
The tradition of this handcrafted icon is certainly a symbol of masculine elegance for over a century around the world. However, it is the donning of this timeless hat that graces the head of a woman that my attention garners.
The history of this superb hat is no exception to historical interest. The ancient origins of the “Panama” hat began in 4000 B.C. Ecuador when the ancient Valdivians used palms in their weaving. The headdress hats that were worn by the natives for protection from the elements of the hot and humid climate went beyond the shoulders, covering ears and neck from exposure. These headdresses were made of fibers of a coastal palm tree native to the area known as the “Toquilla”. Thus, these headdresses became known as “Toquillas”. The evolution from the headdress to the ionic hat also brought with it new names of reference. These hats are also known as “Jipijapas”, taken from the name of a pivotal town for production and commerce of the hats and as “Montecristi”, the apparent ‘mother land’ of toquilla straw hat weaving, just 20.3 miles away from Jipijapas. Who knew?
Alas, the name of this hat as the “Panama” hat has been designated incorrectly! So what of the origin of the infamous name of this classic hat?
According to history, it was a Frenchman by the name of Philippe Raimondi, living in Panama, who returned to France with the hat is 1855. The hat was presented in the 1855 Paris Worlds Fair and launched the hat into world-wide press. In fact, the catalog even mentioned a hat in ‘straw cloth’! From then on, it is believed that the hat became known as the “Panama” Hat. However, history also states that it was the allure of the gold rush which ascended upon Panama in 1849 that this hat’s name can be credited. Pair that with the Spanish American War in which 50,000 hats were purchased for the troops and you have a triumphant hat, indeed. Panama had become a major center of trade in the 19th century and in 1904, during the construction of the Panama Canal, photographs reached the rest of the world of American President “Teddy” Roosevelt in a white straw hat. The hat became an instant fashionable icon. By the start of WWII more than 200,000 Ecuadorians were employed in the straw hat trade.
Unfortunately, after the war, cheaper versions made in China entered the market and the height of the Ecuadorian hat trade collapsed. However, these paper based hats are no match for the authentic Panama hat. With all things, quality prevails. Craftsmanship cannot be replaced. Today, the Panama hat continues to provide a source of income for thousands of Ecuadorians and the hats made in Ecuador today are still of the best quality straw of the Toquilla palm. Quality worth the investment, indeed.
This icon which took hold of Europe, including the United States, has never ceased to go out of fashion. Glorified during the 19th century, the Panama hat has since been considered the “Prince of Straw Hats”. A “Prince” of straw hats fit for a princess, too, indeed.
PS: My upcoming acquisition? A “Panama” hat!