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Panama Hats – Essential Facts

By Taylor James


Updated on

Panama hats are brimmed straw hats, traditionally made using the leaves of the toquilla palma palm-like tree — and are typically hand-woven in Ecuador.

Many people love Panama hats because they are stylish, breathable, and perfect for summer.

Do you want to learn more about this fashion-forward accessory? Keep reading as we explore seven intriguing facts about Panama hats.

Panama hats
@Maccaholic via Twenty20

Panama Hats Originate From Ecuador

Don’t be fooled by their name; Panama hats are not from Panama but rather Ecuador. Before the Spanish arrived in Ecuador, the indigenous locals were already known for their fine straw hats. So, where did the Panama hat get its name?

Manuel Alfaro made his fortune selling Panama hats as early as 1835 and eventually had them exported. The hats were sent via cargo ships from Guayaquil and Manta to the Gulf of Panama. 

Manuel’s business improved tremendously during the California Gold Rush in 1849 when miners would pass through and purchase hats to give them sun protection while working.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Ecuador continued to produce Panama hats that had to be shipped to the Isthmus of Panama before moving on to other countries.

The hats were later sold to the rest of the world. Instead of naming the hats after Ecuador, where they’re made, they were named after Panama, where the international sale happened.

Read more about how the Panama hat got its name in this article.

It Can Take Months To Finish a Fine Panama Hat

A weaver can take about 1-3 days to complete a standard Panama hat — but up to 5 months for the finest Montecristi hat. Panama hat weaving is a skill passed down from one generation to the next, hence the long hours dedicated to weaving. 

Panama hat weavers don’t earn much from this centuries-old craft, so many artisans today leave the art to find other jobs in the cities.

Read about Montecristi hats in this article.

Fine Panama Hats Can Cost Over $25,000

Handmade Panama hats are usually more expensive than other kinds of hats. That’s because Panama hats are well-made; making one can take days or even months!

The quality of a Panama hat is measured by:

  • The fineness of the weave
  • How even the weave is
  • Their size, shape, color, and finishing

Panama hats with very fine straw take much longer to weave than the ones with thicker straw. Also, fine hats with an even weave will cost a lot (from $25,000 each) because of the attention to detail.

The more expensive Panama hats usually have a consistent light ivory color, sometimes red or grayish, and the hats will darken as they age.

For a more affordable Panama hat you can check out this popular option on Amazon.

Tamsui Hats Are Panama Hat Competitors

During the early 20th century, Tamsui hats were made in Formosa (now Taiwan) to compete with Panama hats. Unlike Panama hats made of the Carludovica palmata plant, Tamsui is made of the Pandanus odoratissimus plant found growing on the island. 

Tamsui hats can safely be folded, making them more travel-friendly than the classic Panama hats.

People From All Walks of Life Wear Panama Hats

Panama hats have been around for over 100 years. People from all walks of life have sported in Panama hats, from presidents to dedicated working-class people. Famous people such as Orson Welles, Gregory Peck, Winston Churchill, Johnny Depp, and many others also wore Panama hats.

Read more about Winston Churchill’s hats here.

Panama Hats Are Available in Many Different Styles

When determining Panama hat styles, you want to pay attention to the brim and the crown’s shape and size, as there are several different styles. 

Panama hats are available in the following styles:

The Fedora is very popular and even appeared in classic films like Casablanca. The Optimo is very popular among British travelers, and this style is more common in the United Kingdom than in the States. The Monte Carlo has a brim that turns upwards, and it is often referred to as the “Gambler” style.

Panama Hats Are Not All Equal

Grading exists in the making of Panama hats, and the grades may vary by sellers. One seller’s grade 10 may be different from another seller’s grade 10. That said, you want to be careful if you plan on paying top dollars for a brand new, luxury Panama hat.

You want to check the hat’s quality properly by looking at the straw used and how the weave is done. Panama hats that are top-quality will have even color throughout the hat and even weave.

Not only should the weave be even, but it must also be dense — the denser the weave, the better quality the Panama hat is.

Final Thoughts

Many people love Panama hats because they are stylish, breathable, and perfect for summer. These stylish hats have been around for more than 100 years and were worn by influential figures. The Panama hats are so versatile that people from all walks of life can wear them fashionably.

About Taylor James

As Philip Treacy once said, “How a hat makes you feel is what a hat is all about.” And on that note, I hope you enjoy your hats and find the site useful. Learn more about Hat Realm's Editorial Process.