The Famous “Panama Hat” Is Actually from Ecuador
Those famous light-colored straw hats that we associate with suave well-dressed men and actors in Panama, actually originated and were historically made in Ecuador.
The hat’s production began as a cottage industry in the coast of Ecuador in the 1600’s. It was weaved from the local Toquilla plant and the best hats were made in the province of Manabi. The quality of the hat was judged by the number of weaves it had per square inch. The best hats or “superfino” hats were said to be able to hold water and when rolled would fit through a wedding ring.
But, how did they end up being called “Panama Hats?” It all began during the 1800’s when Panama became a strategic trade route for shipping goods to Asia, Europe and North America. If the hat merchants in Ecuador wanted to distribute their hats worldwide Panama was the place to ship from. As a result, the buyers abroad saw the hats as arriving from Panama and assumed they were produced there and Ecuador’s credit was lost.
The hat gained popularity during the California Gold Rush in the 19th century when many traveled through the Isthmus of Panama. The name was further ingrained in popular culture when in 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Panama Canal and was photographed wearing the hat.
Today some of the best “Panama” hat weavers reside in Ecuador and some village’s main income is dependent upon its production. The hat can be purchased in many locations across the country from shops and local merchants.
Just remember when purchasing a hat to call it by its Ecuadorian name “sombreros de paja toquilla” or “hats of toquilla straw.”
Want to learn more about the amazing country of Ecuador in person? View our Ecuador tours!