Panama Hat History

Panama Hat is the generic name given to a hat that is being fabricated since more than 400 years in Ecuador and that everyone thinks is made in Panama. Here we tell you the story of this classic hat.

In the 16th century, the desire to discover new lands led the Spanish to reach what is now the province of Guayas and Manabí on the Ecuadorian coast. The conquerors observed that the natives protected their heads from the strong sun with a kind of hat that covered their ears and neck. The rich and shiny material was like nothing they had ever seen before but the form of the hats was similar to the headscarfs (tocas in spanish) worn by nuns or widows. Given this similarity the Spanish decided to name these hats “tocas” and the straw used in their making “toquilla straw”.

Time goes by and the history of this hat continues to advance. Ecuador started to export the hats in the first half of the 1800s to Panama and other popular trade seaports. In the mid-1800s many Americans went through Panama to get to California during the Gold Rush. Thus, Panama is where they first encountered the lightweight and stylish straw hats on their journey to prosperity. This assumption of the origin of these hats would only be reinforced many years later after Theodore Roosevelt was photographed wearing the attractive straw hat while inspecting the Panama Canal.

In 1855, a Frenchman brought the hats, bought in Panama, to the World Fair in Paris. The hats were showcased to Napoleon III and millions of exposition visitors. The new and exotic hat, presented as being from the tropics of Panama, was a massive success. Soon after that, the hat became a fashion sensation among Europeans. The widespread international demand the 1855 World’s Fair caused has kept Ecuadorian hat makers busy and the popularity of exclusive Panama Hats has not declined ever since.

The origins, the long history and the art of Ecuadorian hat weavers have been recognised in 2012 by inscribing the traditional weaving of the Ecuadorian toquilla straw hat on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The Panama Hats have become an icon of timeless fashion and only one country continues to make the authentic and best hats – Ecuador.