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History Of Panama Hats

The Panama hat has quickly become a favourite style accessory in Nigeria and abroad. And why not? They’re stylish, there’s a right fit for everyone, and it helps shield us on days when the sun is having a competition with itself.

We know how much we love these gorgeous wide-brimmed hats, what styles and colours we want them in, and what outfits to wear them with. But do we know where they come from?


The Panama hat is actually a traditional brimmed straw hat from Ecuador.  The hats are made from the plaited leaves of the toquilla palm or jipijapa palm. Where did the name ‘Panama’ come from? It originated from the time the Panama Canal was built. Then, thousands of these hats were imported from Ecuador for the workers who worked at the ship canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

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GQ states that naming of the Panama hat was an important branding tactic. By the mid-1800s a more practical, wide-brimmed hat was created. The lightweight lids built quickly became very popular and a few businessmen saw an opportunity to make bank with those natural colored hats. Moving the hats from Ecuador, through Panama, out into the rest of the world became quite the lucrative business. The only problem was it was saying ‘Ecuadorian hats’ seemed like a mouthful and didn’t really have a “recognizable ring” to the rest of the world. ‘Panama’ worked much better. And that was how ‘Panama hat’ was born from a branding move.

According to the BBC, the Ecuadorian cities of Montecristi and Cuenca produce the best Panama hats. However, locals in a small village called Pile claim to be manufacturing the “best Panama hat in the world.”

Pile is a small community of craftsmen and fishermen located in the Manabi coast, 40 kilometers from Montecristi. About 750 people live in this community, and the main activity here is the weaving of toquilla palm hats. Men, women, and children, starting from a very young age, combine their domestic chores with the weaving of toquilla palm hats. In weaving these hats, they still abide by the traditional methods and techniques of fine hat weaving. Very few masters remain who have the inept gift of transforming a humble thread of toquilla in a magnificent masterpiece.

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Today, you can get Panama hats in various sizes, colours and shapes. It’s a style piece easily incorporated into a number of outfits and it has been highlighted as a trend many times over. It’s one of those pieces that never really go out of style. Although many may not be aware of it, this goes a long way in keeping the culture of the Pile people – and their hat making brethren – alive for years to come. The product of ancestral labour can now be worn and enjoyed by many world over. Next time you put on your hat to go out, give a quick thought to the effort that went into making it.


A good quality Panama hat can cost a pretty penny, so it’s important to care for it properly. In dry weather, the hat may become too dry and rigid. When this happens, moisten it once in a while with the steam of an iron from a distance. Or, if you bath with hot water, keep in the bathroom while taking a shower. This will make the hat regain its flexibility and also make it less brittle. In wet conditions, keep the hat in a dry place, to prevent the appearance of mould in the palm.


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Panama Hats
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