The Panama Hat-How a wrong name can lead to success

The history of the Panama Hat begins around 1630 in Manabi on the coast of today’s Ecuador as the Indios for the first time formed a headgear in the form of the Spanish hats from the leaves of fine Toquilla palm (Carludovica palmata), a domestic palm-like monocot plant of the tropical regions of Ecuador. Before they had already made hats whose models covered their ears and ears. Due to a sharp drop in the cotton production in the 17th century, the hats made out of the new material quickly became a popular substitute, and the hat-makers in Montecristi and Jipijapa specialized in a predecessor of the Panama hat model. In 1855, the hats were successfully presented at the World Exposition in Paris, and in 1859 an infantry company, which used the “Jipijapa hat” as part of their uniform, was established at the behest of the Spanish Queen Isabel II. In the course of the following years, the hat developed into a real export success, worn by gold diggers who had followed the gold rush to California, or later after the turn of the century by the workers of the Panama Canal.

Since the hats were always shipped over Panama to North America and Europe, all these hats bore the customs stamps from Panama and so they were known everywhere as Panama hats. This name was finally established in 1906 when a photo of Theodore Roosevelt was published around the world, showing him with a classic Panama hat (a “Sombrero Fino”) visiting the Panama Canal site. Today the Panama hat is produced mainly in the coastal cities of Montecristi and Jipijapa, but also around the Andean town of Cuenca in small factories and family businesses. Depending on the fineness of the fibers and the quality of the workmanship, the production of a hat can take between 1 day and up to 8 months. The hat qualities vary between Regular (simple) over Fino and Extra Fino to Supremo or Super Fino (Superfine) and prices for a hat vary accordingly between US$ 10 up to several thousand dollars. The success story of the hats still continues today. For example, the Panama hat – or, more correctly, the Ecuadorian Paja Toquilla Hat – has been included in 2012 in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of the UNESCO as the hat and the crafts traditions of its manufacture are part of the identity of the cultural heritage of the indigenous communities in Ecuador.