The iconic Panama hat.
If you’ve ever bought hats that give you a more “classic” look for summer, you’ve probably come across Panama hats. In today’s guide, we’re going to take a closer look at Panama hats, what makes a Panama hat so special
What is a Panama hat?
The Panama hat has many different names including: Montecristi Panama hat, Ecuadorian hat, Jipijapa and the Toquilla hat. Yet all these names refer to the same type of hat. Although it can have the same shape and brim as a classic fedora, a true Panama hat is unique because of its materials and the way it is made.
Authentic Panama hats are always made by hand and go through several processes: collecting the young palm shoots, drying, bleaching, weaving and then blocking.
Traditionally, these hats are made by hand, tightly weaving the straw together before blocking the material to give its signature shape.
Fun trivia: Panama hats are not from Panama despite the commonly used name, but they are from Ecuador !
The confusion of the name is blamed on several things.
1) When the hat became popular they were always shipped from Panama and when they arrived at the docks they shouted: “The hats from Panama are here!
2) Former President Roosevelt always wore this hat when visiting the Panama Canals and the hat became associated with the country as a result.
There are others, but I myself believe it is a combination of the two.
What determines the prices of these Panama hats?
While you may struggle with the idea of spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a straw hat, keep in mind that these are not your typical straw hats.
Each Panama hat is handwoven by an expert using genuine toquilla straw sourced from Ecuador . Before using the material, the best young shoots of this special palm are carefully selected. Then there is a whole process that can take a week or more to bleach and dry it naturally.
Only then can one start weaving and that is not just done by anyone. The weaving techniques used have been passed down from generation to generation . If the weaver has mastered the techniques well, he or she can weave the following quality of panamas :
- Standard Panama hat weave time = +1 month.
- fino panama hat weaving time = 1 to 2 months.
- superfino panama hat weaving time = +- 3 months.
Then there is the qualities of the master weavers to which the title montecristi is added, when you see a hat with that name you know that you have something special in your house. Because just like the other Panama hats mentioned earlier, they also have different levels of wear.
- Montecristi standard Panama hat weaving time = 3 to 4 months
- Montecrisiti fino Panama hat weaving time = +-6 months
- Montecristi pile (you can already consider this a reserve, of a rare whiskey or rum) weaving time = can last up to 1 year!
So you see that not only is a lot of time and effort put into the production and distribution of these hats, but it also means that each hat is unique. So you will have to pay more depending on the level and quality of the weave.
Hopefully you are now a little wiser and now you know what makes a Panama hat so special. When buying a Panama hat I would always make sure that it:
- Woven by hand (look at the top of the crown).
- Made with toquila straw.
- Coming from Ecuador (or at least woven).