A Hat to Remember

A Hat to Remember

Classy, refined and versatile – a summer hat is always a good companion on torrid days, be it in the tropical forests of Brazil, at a boat party in the Maldives or on the overheated streets of Paris in July. A hat has you covered: it protects your skin from the blistering sun, saves you from any bad hair days and adds a casual-chic air to any outfit you may flaunt at the beach, on your vacation or on your Instagram. And, if you were to pick just one hat, you wouldn’t go wrong with the Panama hat, the queen of summer wear.

These light, silky hats have a rich history that spans centuries, at least since the early-1600s when Ecuadorians started weaving and trading them locally. A craft-making tradition ensued, that was passed from generation to generation, in 2012 being formally recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


It Should Have Been Called the Ecuadorian Hat

The name of the Panama hat, unfortunately, is a misnomer, that irks Ecuadorians to this day. Few people are aware that original Panama hats only come from Ecuador. At some point, the Ecuadorian government even tried a half-PR, half-diplomatic stunt to remedy the ignorance of the public by asking their consuls to attach stickers that read “Panama hats are made in Ecuador” to their correspondence. The experiment, however, didn’t have the desired effect, as the American explorer Victor Wolfgang von Hagen wrote in his 1938 book, Ecuador the Unknown. “I see they are now making Panama hats in Ecuador,” the consul to San Francisco summed up the Americans’ reaction to the stickers.

So where did the name Panama hat come from and why it stuck?

There are several hypotheses, at play, the most popular explanation being a photo of the US president Theodore Roosevelt wearing the hat while visiting the construction site of the Panama Canal in 1906. The photo ended up on the front page of newspapers around the world, forever associating the image of the Ecuadorian straw hat with the Panama Canal in the public consciousness. 

If you want to buy an original Panama hat, it’s worth knowing more about its history


The Magic of Weaving an Original Panama Hat

An original Panama hat is made of the toquilla straw, paja toquilla, a fibrous palm-like plant indigenous to the coastal regions of Ecuador and found at the foothills of the Andes Mountains. The farmers cultivate the toquillales and harvest the stems before separating the fiber from the outer skin. The stalks are then briefly boiled, dried and bleached with sulfur over a wood fire, in order to be further split into fine baby hair-like straws.

From farmer to buyer, the making of a genuine Panama hat is a long, multi-layered process, as painstaking as the masterpiece of a sculptor being revealed by chisel from a block of marble.  The weaving itself can last anywhere between a day and eight months, for the finer Panama hats. Once that is completed, the hand-woven hat is passed on to other artisans for the finishing touches, which include the finishing of the brim by removing the extra straw, as well as the washing, bleaching and sun-drying of the hat. 

The hat is then pounded with sulfur powder, an essential process that softens it and gives it suppleness. There is a saying, according to local folklore, that a high-quality Panama hat, if rolled, should be supple enough to pass through a wedding ring.

The last steps include the trimming and the ironing of the hat into a form, but the final shape itself, achieved through blocking, is usually completed by the buyer.


How to Determine the Quality of a Panama Hat

The quality of a Panama hat is generally determined by the quality of the straws – the more identical, finer and evenly colored, the better – and the density and tightness of the weaving.

If you’re looking to buy a wallet-friendly hand-woven Panama hat for everyday wear, you should aim for a density of 350-400 weaves per square inch (2.5 cm).

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to pamper yourself for a special occasion, the finest Montecristi hats are the highest quality you can find. The density of their weaving ranges between 2000 and 4000 points per square inch, and the price reflects the extra effort and time that go into their making. It’s hardly a surprise then that the best high-quality Montecristi hats may cost thousands of euros. 


What Determines The Price of a Genuine Panama Hat

You should have asked that question at least once. You are not the one to be curious why some Panama hats cost hundreds and thousands of euros while others are worth less than a dinner in a mediocre restaurant. As we have already mentioned one of the main factors that influence the price of a Panama hat is its quality.

A real Panama hat is only handwoven. It takes weeks for artisans to complete one hat. Even more, as a rule, two or three craftspeople are working on the same product. It is out of the question that their work should be paid off. The quality of Arts on Hats’ Panama hats justifies the price because we cooperate only with genuine artisans from Ecuador who have already been weaving hats for dozens of years and whose families started taking it up a long time ago.


How to Buy an Original Panama Hat

The first thing you should do before buying a toquilla straw Panama hat is to check for the country of its origin. Only Panama hats made in Ecuador are authentic.

Secondly, make sure the hat is hand-woven out of toquilla straw. To make a fake Panama hat, an artificial straw, polypropylene or a so-called paper straw are used. That is why the price can be tempting but it isn’t original.

Thirdly, choose the density you prefer. As mentioned earlier, the higher the density of the weaving, the higher the quality and price of the hat. It is worth investing in one with a higher weaving density, as the hat is likely to last you for years if properly taken care of.


Your First Panama Hat

The Panama hat is highly versatile and works for almost any style, be it casual, smart or elegant. You can wear it by the pool or at the beach, at cocktail parties or business lunch meetings, on vacation or in the haven of your summer garden.  The hat is certain to set you apart and prepare you for a casual, yet chic, summer.

Here is some advice about how to choose the best Panama hat for you:

Choose the right fit.  Even the finest Panama hats will look unimpressive and cheap if they’re not the right fit for you. The hat should neither be too loose nor too tight but fit comfortably on your head. Consult the Panama hat size guide before buying.

Choose the right shape. Depending on your face features, go for larger brims if you’re round or square-faced and choose light-colored and narrow hat bands that will elongate your features. If, on the other hand, your face is narrower and your stature is smaller, choose small brims and darker hat bands.

Choose the right style.  While the classic cream-colored fedora style Panama hat with a black band goes with almost anything, feel free to experiment with different colors and shapes if you want to make a lasting impression. You can wear it straight on your head, for a conservative look, or at an angle, to add a bit of mystery. There are classic colors like black, white and natural, and more extravagant and brighter. Check your wardrobe and see what you will wear a Panama hat with, what color combinations are dominant in your wardrobe, and that will give you a hint of what to look for.

Luckily, Arts on Hats is ready to present multiple collections of ours to your attention so that you could pick a hat that will match all your expectations, that will accompany you either on a summer vacation or on official events, that will suit most of your outfits or give originality to one of you every day looks. Don’t be afraid to stand out. Gain your deserved attention and stay true to yourself.

 How and When to Wear the Panama Hat    

Wearing a Panama hat properly is as important as taking care of it. Put your hat on your head using the brims only not the crown so that it doesn’t lose shape and flexibility with time. Place it flat on your head and voila – you are ready to go. Important that you feel confident and special!

When can you wear your Panama hat? As it is a summer hat, you can wear it basically everywhere and all the time. But remember that according to hat etiquette a Panama hat like other headwear should be removed in places of worship, people’s home, etc.; of course, there might be exceptions depending on who is wearing a hat.

  A Royal Hat

The toquilla hat has long been associated with the miners crossing the Panama Canal during the California Gold Rush of 1848 and buying the hats from those seaports, but some of its earliest ambassadors were royal heads, amongst them being Napoleon III and King Eduard VII. This royal fashion hasn’t waned over the centuries, in recent years Prince Charles and Meghan Markle being regularly spotted wearing the famed Panama hat as well.

And what’s good for the crown is good for the red carpet. The hat is enmeshed with the history of Hollywood after making splashy and unforgettable appearances throughout the Golden Age of moviemaking, in the 1930s and 1940s. Characters like Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind and Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird are all the more memorable in the public consciousness thanks to their unmistakable Panama hats.

The tradition continues to this day, with many celebrities – men and women alike– have adopted these luxury hats as part of their signature style. Hollywood actors Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp are often seen wearing the Panama hat, which adds a refined nonchalance to their wardrobe.

Actress Jennifer Aniston, too, is regularly accessorizing her outfits with the toquilla straw Panama hat during spring and summer, be it on vacations in Mexico or on the fashionable streets of New York.

 A Matter of Climate

Due to their South-American history and the tropical climate of their origins, Panama hats handmade by artisans are still widely popular on the American continents where they protect workers, street vendors, tourists and businessmen alike from high temperatures and humidity year-round.

In Europe, where the climate is more temperate and the summers are shorter, the toquilla straw hats are seen more like a luxury or a fashion statement, despite their obvious and practical usefulness.

With the climate change intensifying temperatures and the summers becoming more unbearable with each passing year on the Old Continent, the practical and fashionable Panama hat should be part of everyone’s wardrobe. 


A Memorable Gift

It is often tricky to find the perfect gift for a loved one. It’s as if the harder you try, the more likely you are to miss, as one’s personal taste cannot be wrapped, at the same time, alongside one’s present. But just like a bouquet of red roses, a bottle of Chardonnay or a diamond necklace will be revered by all, so will a genuine Panama hat make for a sure and memorable choice in pampering your close ones.


How to Take Care of Your Panama Hat

There are only a few tips that may prolong the life of your Panama hat if you follow them.

  1. Due to the fragility of the hat, it is recommended putting it on and off only using the brims.
  2. Store your Panama hat in a cool place with no direct sunlight; even better if you store it in an Arts on Hats’ original box or hat bag.
  3. Your Panama hat doesn’t like water; so, leave it at home on rainy days.
  4. If your Panama hat loses its original form, it is recommended ironing the brims before putting a white cotton cloth on them.
  5. Use a baby wipe or a damp cloth to remove stains and spots. Always leave it to dry naturally.

So simple things to remember to let your hat serve you longer.


Let’s Sum Up

  • Hand-woven Panama hats have a long and rich history, having enchanted people of all cultures and backgrounds across the centuries, be they workers toiling away in the hot summer sun, celebrities walking down the red carpet, nomads who work remotely as they travel around the world or royalty partying on their flashy yachts.

  • With summer here, whether for yourself or for those you love, it’s worth buying an original Panama hat and join in this long and beautiful tradition.

  • You won’t acquire only a piece of fabric, but you will hold in your possession a work of art, a thread of history and, above all else, unassailable beauty.