It is called Panama, but it was born in Ecuador.
It´s original name is Toquilla Straw Hat, which is the kind of straw it is handwoven with in Ecuador. At the end of the XIX century, when the construction of the Panama Canal was starting, thousands of hats were brought from Ecuador to protect the workers from the strong Sun in the area. The Toquilla Straw is a kind of palm with very long stems and flexible leaves, that makes the Panama Hats very light and fresh, perfect for long hours under the Sun.
President Roosvelt wore a Panama Hat during the opening ceremony of the Canal, making it very fashionable within the bourgeoisie. Later Hollywood stars started to wear it too, making it famous worlwide. Since then it is known as Panama Hat.
We know the real origin of this famous hat is pre-Hispanic, as there is proof that the natives used to wear some kind of bellshape hat. When Spanish conquerors arrived, they were intrigued by these curious headdresses, tocados in Spanish, and they called them tocas. That is when the Toquilla name has its origin. They were also called Jipijapa Hats, as it is said it was in this village where the art of handwoven the straw started. They are also called Montecristi, another close area where they were made. Nowadays there are many regions in Ecuador that are somehow involved in the process of the Panama Hat, whether it is recollecting the straw leaves, cutting and cooking them, drying, weaving, shaping, etc. It is important to know that only toquilla straw hats handmade in Ecuador are the real Panama Hats.
In 2012, under the name of Toquilla Straw Hat, the famous Panama Hat was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, giving recognition to this handcraft passed on from generation to generation.
The quality of the Panama Hat is graded according to how thin the straw threads are. It depends on this how long it can take for an artisan to make a hat. It can go from one week to more than six months per hat! As expected, the price for the hat depends on this, having the highest grades prices around € 3000 or more.