Panama became the conventional hat worn on sunny days during the Roland-Garros tournament. The shop at the sports complex sells two thousand of them at each edition of the tournament.
In the XIXe century, the Parisians had adopted the hat called “Panama”, made fashionable by the workers who were digging the canal of the same name at that time. Thereby, Paname could mean the city of the elegant origin of the nickname given to Paris.
the Panama hat made from the Toquilla straw plant comes to us from Ecuador. These hats have been worn by many celebrities who have been seduced by the Panama hat’s quality and know-how during its manufacture.
What is the origin of this elegant and practical hat and its manufacturing secrets?
The Panama hat originated in Ecuador
Despite its name, the Panama hat is from Ecuador. Reference for all lovers of headgear Panama is not a form, but a way of doing things: it refers to all hats woven by hand from palm straw. It, therefore, exists in the versions of fedora, floppy, bowler, and trilby (it is then called Cuban Panama)…
Panama is not exclusively male hathe can be worn by both men and women. Panama has become famous thanks to the quality of its straw and its lightness. If the white Panamas are more classic, it is now possible to dye the straw in all shades. Meticulously handwoven from toquilla straw, it is a national symbol in Ecuador.
The traditional weaving of the “Panama” straw hat, originating in Ecuador, and more particularly in the towns and surroundings of Cuenca and Montechristi, was listed a few years ago (in 2012) as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO.
The toquilla straw hat is woven with the fibers of a palm tree characteristic of the Ecuadorian coast. Coastal farmers cultivate the “toquillales’” and harvest the stems before separating the fiber from the green bark which they boil to remove the chlorophyll and dry to obtain subsequent bleaching over a wood fire with sulphur. The weavers take this raw material and start weaving the crown and the brim of the hat. Weaving a hat can take between one day and eight months, depending on the quality and finesse. In the coastal community of Pile, weavers produce extra-fine hats that require specific climatic conditions and involve an exact number of stitches in each row of weaving. The process is completed by washing, bleaching, molding, ironing and hammering. The weavers are mostly peasant families and the transmission of weaving techniques is done at home from an early age through observation and imitation. The knowledge and skills encompass a complex and dynamic social fabric, including traditional cultivation and processing techniques, forms of social organization and the use of the hat as an element of daily dress and in contexts festive. It is a distinctive feature of the communities perpetuating this tradition and a component of their cultural heritage.
The origin of Panama
the Panama hat is the “star” of Ecuadorian craftsmanship. The existence of this type of hat in Ecuador is ancestral, and is attested by ceramics dating from 4,000 years BC From 1850, this craft boomed: more than 200,000 hats are exported each year to the United States. The construction of the Panama canal (1880-1914) strengthens the movement and causes a boom in commercial traffic and Western presence. Solid and light Ecuadorian hats seduce Westerners who do not distinguish the origin and start calling it “Panama Hat”.
The finer the straw, the better the quality. You should know that there is no limit: the manufacture of some exceptional models can last a year and be sold for several thousand dollars! The most famous is the Montecristi Panamas: hats with weaving so fine and tight that they are waterproof. To recognize a real Panama from a fake, just look at the top of the hat. If you see a rosette on top, then it is genuine because it is the beginning of weaving by hand. So, with your Panama hat, you’ll be ready for summer and the beach while being chic!
The steps of making a Panama hat
To guarantee the quality of the straw, the harvest is carried out during the days when the leaves retain less moisture and are lighter. Using machetes, the new stems are cut by hand, bundled, and transported by horse or truck to the weaving villages. Each stem contains the coiled fingers of a large compound leaf…
The stems are opened and the inner fingers of the leaves are separated and split into dozens of thin straws attached to the leaf stem. The prepared stalk is then cleaned and boiled in a large pot of water for about an hour, then hung up to dry. The straw is then sorted by thickness and bundled to obtain a common length of around one meter.
In the coastal town of Montecristi, the straw is then placed in a sealed container with a bowl of sulfur and charcoal lit inside overnight. The smoke slowly bleaches the straw to give it the color of Montecristi straw, called the “natural” color. In the Andean city of Cuenca, straw is bleached white or sometimes dyed beige to resemble the “natural” color of Montecristi.
After the straw is ready, the hats are woven outward from the center of the wreath using a wooden wreath form as a backing. The finest straws are chosen for the high-quality hat weaving so that a high-quality hat can take up to three months while an economical Cuenca hat can be finished in a few days.
After the weaving is complete, the excess straw hanging from the edge is then braided backward (towards the crown) to form a thin but strong band around the edge. The remaining straw from the brim is then cut using a razor blade, as well as the ends of the straw inside the hat.
The edges of the hats are then ironed to even out the weave and remove small ripples from the straw. The Montecristi hats are also ironed with a little sulfur in order to lighten the color of the hats.
The different shapes of hats such as Fedora or colonial shapes are shaped using a steam press, but some Montecristi hats are still blocked by hand using an iron on a wooden shape.
Finally, a ribbon is attached to the hat and an internal band is sewn before the hat is ready to be sold.
Buy a genuine Panama hat
Don’t confuse fedora with Panama: The main difference between a Panama and a fedora is that a Panama is made from straw, while a fedora is usually made from felt.
Ideal Panama for the summer: The Panama-style hat has a wide brim that provides fairly effective protection against heat and sunlight. Its tightening ribbon at the level of its interior side, allows it to adapt to most shapes and sizes of heads.
While most Panama hats are affordable, the price of more intricate weaves is rising very quickly. You have to count between 50 and 100 euros for a decent hat, and up to 1000 € and much more for the best quality.
Today, the authentic Panama hat industry is centered in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador, where production is mostly focused on quantity rather than quality. Large companies manufacture hats by the thousands and sell them all over the world.
For your purchase, unless you go directly to Ecuador, turn to online stores specializing in the sale of authentic Panama hats. Keep in mind that the thinner the hat, the more expensive it will be and the price may be high: Few people are able to weave a real Panama hat and there are only a handful of craftsmen who still know how to make them.