Did you know Panama hats are more than just a trendy style of headwear? Not just any hat can be called a Panama hat, even though so many marketers coin in on this name! Technically speaking, much like sparkling wine made in Cape Town cannot be called Champagne, unless a Panama hat is made in Ecuador, it’s not a real Panama hat.
Yes, you read that right! Authentic Panama hats are not actually made in Panama at all, they are made in Ecuador! I know right! It’s all so confusing! So, where does Panama fit into all of this? Well, today, I’m going to share the inside scoop and show you how to identify an authentic hat and where to buy an authentic Panama hat (yes, they do exist locally) , so let’s keep reading…
Before we get into it, ya’ll know I love a bit of backstory, so let’s start there! If you’re not into story time, then you can skip to below the next picture to get the info on Panama hats without my tales of discovery.
On our trip to Mauritius earlier this year (a lovely anniversary slash birthday spoil from the hubs), I came to learn about Panama Hats only by chance.
As you know, Mauritius is a hot island that barely understands the concept of cold weather, so naturally you’d need a hat to keep the sunshine off your face. Caps are ok, but in Mauritius you really need a proper hat with a proper brim. That sun is serious!
I was trying to find a suitable hat for my hubby (who has a really large head), and couldn’t find any. Tons of vendors stroll the beaches daily, carrying armfuls of hats and none of them had a hat that fit him. XL and XXL were just labels sewn in at the mass market factory. So we upped our shopping eyes and spotted some in the hotel giftshop that looked really nice. Except for the price! R1500 for a hat is surely crazy, so I needed to know why.
What made that hat so special? It looked like a really good quality item, but R1500 for a hat is bonkers! Woolies has “Panama” hats for a couple hundred Rands. It didn’t’ make any sense. So I researched based on the label inside this hat and learnt so much about Authentic Panama Hats – which then made me want one for myself!
Luckily it was my birthday, so convincing hubby I needed a stupidly expensive hat, was easy. Sadly for him though, we never got around to finding a hat that fit his head in Mauritius. But when we got back home I continued on the path of “I WILL FIND A FRIGGIN HAT TO FIT HIM!” Surely he can’t be the only noggin with a 63cm head in the whole world?
Thankfully though, with the correct understanding of Panama hats, I was able to find him not only an Authentic Panama hat, but one that fits!
How are Panama Hats made
Authentic Panama hats are expensive and one of the main reasons for this is that they are luxury items that are made completely by hand. They are NOT made using paper or polyester or even “straw”. They are always woven from the toquilla palm, which is found in Ecuador.
A Panama hat is a traditional Ecuadorian piece that is made by artisans who learn their skill from it being passed down the generations. Additionally, the creation of a single Panama hat can take days, often months to produce. It’s also been noted that the same person who started weaving your hat, is the one who finishes it. There is a point where it goes for final finishing, but the overall weaving of the hat, start to finish is done by the same hands who started it.
If you watch the UNESCO video on Youtube, (which I’ve also embedded below), you will appreciate the process, the time and the skill that goes into making a Panama Hat and you will justify the price.
Why are they called Panama Hats if they are made in Ecuador?
There’s quite a lot of info on the history of the name and why it came about, but in a nutshell, most of the legends, the history and the stories revolve around the Panama Canal.
There is also some mention of the Panama hat gaining popularity when Theodore Roosevelt wore this hat at the opening of the Panama Canal.
How can I tell if it’s a real Panama hat?
Firstly the price! If it’s too good to be true, chances are you’re getting suckered into the marketers web of consumer confusion.
Authentic Panama Hats start at around the $50 mark (so R800) and they can go up to the $300 (R4800) mark. I even found some listed at $1000 (a whopping R16 000).
At the end of the day, it’s all about how much quality you want to pay for, and in the case of a Panama Hat, the finer and tighter the weave, the longer the labour, therefore the higher the price.
I’m not even getting into “luxury brand or designer” items here when we talk price.
Price alone won’t help you identify if it’s a Real Panama hat, but…
There is a very quick and easy to way to identify if the hat is the real deal Panama or just another fake. It’s all in the crown.
The crown is where they start to weave the Panama hat, and the starting stitch is very distinct. If you look at the crown, you’ll see a very distinct flower type design.
This is usually a good indication that the hat you’re looking at is made by hand. Machine made hats don’t have this distinct flower emblem, so when you know what to look for, it makes life much easier.
How I justify the price…
For me, I no longer buy (fashion or other) for the sake of buying. I’d rather spend my money on quality items that are special. Something that I know I will love and something that is timeless with tradition and legacy.
Sure, it’s nice to have a cupboard full of every item you’ve ever dreamed of, but for me, I’d rather have lesser volume and higher quality. At the end of the day, I don’t need every item in every shape, size and colour for every occasion – truth be told, even when I had a whole lot of “stuff” clogging my shelves, there were only certain items I liked anyway. And it was usually the ones that made me feel good because of their quality.
The older I get, the more I value quality, legit and artisanal items that are made by hand. Items that have a story, a journey, a history! Blame it on the mass market culture of having too much stuff (we don’t need that just ends up in a landfill).
By buying a true piece, I don’t need to fill my life with different colours of it or different styles. Just the one perfect piece is all I need.
I want one, where can I find a real Panama Hat without missioning to Mauritius?
Believe it or not, I was able to track down authentic Panama Hats from a supplier in South Africa who imports them directly from Ecuador!
If you’re interested in owning a true piece, (and even better is the fact that their prices are really good) go check out panamahats.co.za.
The owner, Patti was so amazing, helping me to find a hat that fits my husband perfectly. He was so happy when he got his hat and it didn’t fit like a circus monkey.
They also have a couple of different styles which is also cool.