(Panama Gringo) Did you know that the hat that most of us know as the ‘Panama hat’ didn’t actually originate in Panama? Until recently I had no idea that the hat that most of us recall when we hear the term is actually an Ecuadorian imposter. The ‘Panama hat’ is made from the leaves of the toquilla straw plant. The leaves are used to make the material the hats are woven from. The hats received the name because in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the hats were shipped from Ecuador they made a pit stop in Panama before reaching the rest of the world. The hats were then named after the major shipping port that most other countries received the hats from.
Movie stars and fashionistas everywhere sport these lightweight hats, and they’re often associated with tropical culture, warm weather and celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and the President Theodore Roosevelt. The hats became popular when workers on the canal started wearing them to protect themselves from mosquitoes and harsh sun on the equator. But, these hats are far from the same as hats that most traditional Panamanian men wear. The true hat of Panama is similar to its Ecuador born cousin, but quite different as well.
The traditional hat of Panama looks quite silly in my opinion, but they are more for utility than style. These hats are made from the same material, but have a wide floppy brim that circles completely around the hat and is typically worn folded up in the front. These hats protect wearers from the sun and are really popular with farmers and workers outside of the city. Check out both styles so you can recognize the original and the imposter when you’re traveling in Panama.