Walking the charming streets of Casco Viejo in Panama City and passing by numerous Panama hat stores, I get tempted to try some. I head into a traditional store and start chatting with the charismatic owner, curious to know where in Panama these hats are made. “In Ecuador!”, he laughs.
Dating back to the 17th century, weaving hats using straw-like palm (toquilla) has been a tradition in Ecuador. During the 19th and 20th centuries, they were exported worldwide via the Isthmus of Panama, where they got their name. Gold diggers traveling to California via the Isthmus appreciated the hat for its lightness and flexibility, giving it more popularity. Still, its best ambassador was the American president Theodore Roosevelt. Ever since he was photographed wearing a Panama hat in 1904 while visiting the workers of the Panama Canal to encourage them, this head-wear has become the essential summer fashion accessory.
Beyond a fashion accessory, a Panama hat represents a long tradition that is endangered by cheap manufactured copies made in China. So make sure your Panama hat is a genuine one from Ecuador when you buy one to look fashionable and classy this summer!
Marcella & Claire