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Panama hats come from Ecuador, not Panama.

panama_hat_harry_trumanThe Panama hat is the traditional brimmed hat that is made in the Ecuadorian town of Montecristi from plaited leaves of the toquilla straw plant. The plant is hand-split into strands as thin as threads and then woven very finely. Each one is woven by a single artist and takes months to complete.  

 The Ecuadorian hats were mistakenly called “Panama hats” because in the XIX and early XX centuries many goods were first shipped from the Isthmus of Panama prior to sailing to their destinations in Asia, Europe, or the Americas. For some products, as with the Ecuadorian hats, the name of the point of international sale (Panama) was substituted for the domestic origin (Ecuador). 

President Roosevelt popularized the hat when he wore it on his visit to the construction site of the Panama Canal.

Hat quality is a heavily disputed subject. There are two main processes in the creation of the hat: weaving and blocking. The best way to determine the quality of the weave is to count the number of weaves per square inch. Fewer than 100 would be considered low quality. The rarest and most expensive ones can have as many as 1600-2500 weaves per square inch and might sell for thousands of dollars each. It is said that a “superfino” (true quality) hat can hold water, and when folded for storage, can pass through a wedding ring. 

Although hat weaving continues to provide a livelihood for many Ecuadorians, the number of weavers capable of making the finest “Montecristi Superfinos” is on the decline. It is estimated that the Ecuadorian hat making industry will disappear in 20 years due to competition of paper-based, Chinese-made imitations and the dominance and manipulation of the market by a few hat sellers. The woven art of making “Panama hats” in Ecuador is endangered to the point of disappearance.


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3 responses »

  1. Very interesting and informative ! One of my co-workers is from Ecuador and the other day we were talking about the Panama hats being from Ecuador and not Panama !!

  2. I learned about this misconception just recently. I wish the Ecuadorean would get more credit on this.
    I loved the explanation of the “counts”. I haven’t tried folding mine, I doubt that it will go through a wedding ring.. I have doubts that it is a SUPERFINO!

  3. On a recent trip to Panama, I was able to take a photo of an authentic Ecuadorian hat that sells in Panama for around $ 800. The cheapers ones,made locally or from China start at $ 25.


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