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HATVENT DAY 8 - The history of the Panama hat

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

The most impact caused by one hat was probably the Panama hat worn by President Theodor Roosevelt. He was doing an inspection on the Panama Canal excavation on November 16, 1906. Photographs were taken and sent round the world. The hat was made in Ecuador and unknown at this point.

Panama hats are only made with Toquilla Palm, this is the fibrous leaves of the Carludovica palmata plant. These strands are used to weave the fabric of the Hat. The Panama Hat Companies founder, Jenny emphasised that the weavers bought this special straw at the local market on Sundays to weaver their hoods during the week. This is the most important feature of a Panama hat. The weaving knowledge is passed through communities. Each village has a slight different weave. There are two types of weave; one is a chevron pattern while the other in an equal diamond weaves. The quality is defined by the number of chevrons or diamonds in the special gauge that defines the weave. More chevrons indicate a higher quality with finer woven fabric.

There are two major actions to making a Panama hat, each with so many processes. One is the weaving while the other is blocking. Once the fibres are woven and made into a hood, the edge of the brim is finished with intricate back weaving. Next it is trimmed and beaten; each process is carried out by a different highly skilled artisan. Blocking is a done to shape the hood into a specific form like a fedora, pork pie or other familiar hat shape. Finally, it is reshaped to complete the Hat.

The best Panama Hats are called Montecristis, after the town Montecristi where they were first made. The weaver takes 4 to 5 months to weave one hood. The last action is to add a wide black band around the hat.

Everyone loves a genuine Panama hat. A trip to Ecuador is one way to buy one, but there are easier ways. The Panama Hat Company brings a little part of Ecuador to UK in the form of a woven hood. With an individual approach to every hat, the hood starts its journey in their creative process to emerge as a genuine Panama hat incorporating modern flair.

You can read more details on the Panama hat with an in-depth interview with Jenny and Mavi from the Panama Hat Company in the July issue of The Hat Channel Mag.


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