They have staked their claim as iconic. Film stars of Humphrey Bogart’s generation wore them on the big screen. Light on the pate and good cover under the blazing tropical sun Panama Hats have never fallen out of fashion. You’ll see them for sale throughout Panama and worn all over the world in obliging climates. But here’s the truth: Panama Hats are not made in Panama.
The indigenous people of Ecuador weave them from the leaves of a palm plant, the Toquilla. An isthmus between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean the Republic of Panama has seen a lot of traffic from explorers, traders and plunderers throughout the ages. And savvy Ecuadorian traders have been exporting their goods to Panama for centuries. Business boomed during the gold rush of the 1800s as many passed through Panama to seek their fortunes in the heat of the Californian sun. The U.S. government bought tens of thousands of Panama Hats from dealers in Panama City for the troops during the Spanish American War.
But it is most likely the construction of the Panama Canal that is most responsible for the misnomer. The hats were popular among canal workers. A visit to the canal by president Theodore Roosevelt donning the black brimmed hat was widely published around the world with a caption coining the phrase “Panama Hat.”