One of my summer staples, the Panama Hat is a true example of the cultural heritage present in Central and South America. Both functional and stylish, its white coloring acts as a reflective surface for the tropical, summer sun keeping the head cool and shady, while pairing perfectly with lightweight summer clothing.
The Panama hat originated in Ecuador
Despite the name, the origin of the hat is actually Ecuadorian, not Panamanian. Some of the first hats to come out of Ecuador in this style and quality were shipped internationally through the ports of Panama. This led people to think incorrectly that the hats were a product of the shipping port, and so the name was born.
Authentic Panama Hats are made from the leaves of the Carludovica palmata plant. The hats are all hand woven in the same manner – an art that is passed down from generation to generation. The construction of the hats is not just considered an art form to connoisseurs, but to those who can truly be called masters of the craft. In fact, the art of weaving the Ecuadorian toquilla hat was included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists on December 6, 2012.
Panama hats saw an increase in popularity in the middle of the 19th century during the California Gold Rush as miners traveled to California via Panama. And when President Theodore Roosevelt was photographed in one during a trip to the Panama Canal construction site in 1904, its popularity only grew more.
A true Montecristi Superfino can be turned over and filled with water
Today’s Panama hats are made all over the world, though those made in Ecuador have specific ranking systems in order to control the quality and craftsmanship. The highest ranking hats are given the title Montecristi superfinos – named for the town in which they are produced. A true Montecristi Superfino can be turned over and filled with water and, as legend has it, passed through a wedding ring when rolled up.
There are only about 10 remaining craftsman in the world that can make hats that live up to this standard, which is reflected in the premium you’ll have to pay for one. Some top superfinos sell for upwards of $20,000!
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He Spoke Style