Ten Things you didn’t know about Panama Hats

It is often considered that, if Glorious Goodwood were to be manifest as an item of millinery, it would be a Panama hat. Those in the know at this year’s Qatar Goodwood Festival will surely sport one, with its traditional associations with the festival since King George popularised it back in the 19th Century. In light of this, here are a few little-known facts about the famous headgear.

  1. The Panama hat does not, in fact, originate from Panama at all. Its origins are in Ecuador, where the hats were traditionally made from the plaited leaved of the toquilla straw plant, which is grown in Western Ecuador.
  2. It gained its name due to American shipping customs in the 19th and 20th centuries – like many South American goods made in this period, the hats were sent to Panama for shipping to the rest of the world. Soon, Panama became synonymous with the hat.
  3. They are also known as a Jipijapa, after a hat-making centre in Ecuador.
  4. The test of a high class Panama hat is the quality of the weave. This quality is assessed by counting the number of weaves per square inch, much like methods of determining cotton quality. The most expensive could have up to 2000, whereas fewer than 100 would be considered fairly low quality.
  5. The very best Panama hats can be folded for storage  – Ecuadorian hatmakers believe that a Panama can pass through a wedding ring when rolled up.
  6. Multi-talented, the best quality Panama hats can also hold water due to the high number of weaves per square inch. Handy!
  7. The Panama Hat was more widely popularised after American president Theodore Roosevelt wore one on a visit to the Panama Canal construction site in 1906. They have remained in popularity ever since.
  8. The famous American hat-makers Stetson also produce a line of Panamas.
  9. The seventh Doctor Who, played by Sylvester McCoy, was a big Panama hat fan.
  10. There are three main styles of Panama – the Optimo, the Fedora and the Monte Carlo. All three have featured in films. Sydney Greenstreet wore an Optimo in Casablanca, Anthony Hopkins a Fedora in Hannibal, and Clark Gable a Monte Carlo in Gone With The Wind.