A Brief History of the Panama Hat

Panama Hat


Panama hats are a vital part of an island gentleman’s wardrobe. They’re versatile, iconic, stylish and functional. But one thing they're not? They’re not from Panama. Join us as we explore the origins, the design and the legacy of these enduringly dapper cappers from south of the equator.


Authentic Panama hats, like the ones we sell today, originate from Ecuador. But they're not called “Ecuador hats” because Panama is where many of them were either originally sold or worn. Gold prospectors of the 1800s passing through on their way to California would purchase them there. So did the U.S. Government: they bought 50,000 of them for troops during the Spanish-American War. And workers who helped construct the Panama Canal wore them as they toiled in the tropical sun.

The clean, classic look of the Panama hat is the result of a complex, exacting production process. In fact, the process is so revered it was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2012.

It starts with toquilla, a tall, palm-type plant native to Ecuador. The leaves are harvested during a specific period every lunar cycle that coincides with the plant’s fibers being drier than they are the rest of the month. The drier the straw, the better the hat. From there, the straw is hand-woven and formed into the hat’s unmistakable shape.

When judging the quality of a Panama hat, the rule of thumb goes: the more weaves per square inch, the more luxurious (and expensive) the hat. Pay close attention to the rows in its crown. The texture should be thin and smooth; if possible, use a loupe or magnifying glass to see the intricate details.

The Panama hat is the result of a complex production process


Despite their origins in labor-intensive occupations, Panama hats have come to represent relaxed refinement the world over. In the United States, they surged in popularity after President Teddy Roosevelt was photographed wearing one in 1906. Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Winston Churchill all famously wore them.

From sparkling sand beaches to backyard barbecues, the Panama is a touchstone of relaxed living. Shop our men's hat collection and find the one that’s suited to your island sensibilities.