Panama Hats Guide

panama hats guide

If you have ever shopped for luxury hats that will give you a more “classic” look, you have probably encountered Panama hats. A variation on the standard fedora, the Panama hat has come to be associated with many different eras, regions, and styles over the years. In today’s guide, we are going to take a closer look at Panama hats — including their design, history, cost, and functionality!


What Is a Panama Hat?

The Panama hat goes by many different names, including the Montecristi Panama hat, Ecuadorian hat, Jipijapa, and the Toquilla hat. Nonetheless, all of these names refer to the same general design. Though it shares a similar shape and brim size with the fedora, a genuine Panama hat is unique for its materials and the way in which it is made.

Modern manufacturing processes have helped make Panama hats widely available, but authentic Panama hats are made by hand using two processes: weaving and blocking. Traditionally, these straw hats are handmade by tightly weaving straw together before blocking the material to give it its signature shape.

If you are unfamiliar with the look of an authentic Panama hat, it has the same general form as a fedora — though it is typically lighter and more breathable. Rather than felt fur or leather, Panama hats are made with tightly woven toquilla straw, which comes from the toquilla palm tree that naturally grows on the coasts of Ecuador. While imitation Panama hats are made all the time using synthetic materials, real Panama hats are always handwoven from toquilla straw.

There are slight variations with each and every handmade hat, but the vast majority of Panama hats conform to one style. The crown is relatively high, with one or more intentional depressions at the peak. Genuine Panama hats take on the natural hue of toquilla straw — an off-white, beige color. The base of the crown is accented by a black band, which is frequently made from dyed straw. Finally, the signature brim typically extends at least two inches from the base of the crown. Many Panama hats have firm brims — upturned in the back and downturned in the front. Alternatively, some Panama hats feature a flatter, wider, more malleable brim that provides greater protection from the sun.

This should give you a better idea of what to expect with a Panama hat, but you still may wonder what it looks like in real life. While Panama hats are still highly popular today, they were first made fashionable in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its popularity moved to the United States during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as it has been featured in films such as Casablanca, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Silence of the Lambs, as well as the Indiana Jones franchise (though Indiana Jones himself actually sports a wide-brimmed fedora).

Why Is a Panama Hat Called a Panama Hat?

As previously mentioned, Panama hats are made from the leaves of toquilla trees grown on the coasts of Ecuador. In fact, the popular hat style originated in Montecristi, Ecuador, where Manuel Alfaro, a 19th-century Spanish entrepreneur, helped build the Panama hat industry using handweaving designs and methods that had been in use by native Ecuadorians for decades. Thus, Ecuador is the Panama hat’s primary country of origin.

This begs the obvious question: why is a Panama hat called a Panama hat? According to fashion historians, the name came about as a misunderstanding on the part of travelers who helped popularize the hats in North America. During the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century, thousands of people from all over the world flocked to California in pursuit of new fortunes. Many of these gold prospectors traveled to California from Central and South America.

Manuel Alfaro’s hat business was thriving in the region, and the fashionable style made its way up the coast from Ecuador to Panama. Many of the gold-hungry travelers picked up these fashionable hats in Panama to help protect them from the blistering sun as they made the long journey to California. Once in the United States, these travelers told people where they had purchased these unique hats — and the rest is history. Despite being born and manufactured in Ecuador, the Panama hat was forever associated with a completely different country.

Why Are Authentic Panama Hats So Expensive?

You can pick up a cheap imitation Panama hat at just about any souvenir or hat shop in various countries around the world. However, if you want a genuine Panama hat made of authentic, high-quality toquilla straw, you are going to have to pay for it. Though prices vary, the best Panama hats typically fall somewhere between $200-$400.

Why are Panama hats so expensive? Though you may struggle with the idea of shelling out hundreds of dollars for a hat, you have to remember that these aren’t just any hats. Each and every Panama hat is handwoven using real toquilla straw sourced from Ecuador. Not only does this mean that a great deal of time and effort goes into the production and distribution of these hats, but it also means that each and every hat is one-of-a-kind. Consequently, you will have to pay more to get an authentic Panama hat.

How To Wear A Panama Hat

Much like fedoras, there are right and wrong ways to wear a Panama hat. That said, the way in which you wear your hat will depend on a variety of factors, including your hair length and style, as well as the environment or occasion. Fortunately, men and women often wear their Panama hats in the ways, which makes things a little easier. In any case, let us look at some of the most important things you’ll need to know to look your best in a Panama hat!

Hair Length

Panama hats work well with both short and long hair. Generally speaking, if you have short hair, you will want to wear the hat lower on your head (keeping the brim level with the ground). This will protect your head and neck from the sun, while also preventing the crown from sitting too far off of your scalp.

Alternatively, men or women with longer hair might find it difficult to wear a Panama hat so low on the head. This is especially true if your hair has a lot of volume. As a result, you can either put your hair into a bun that fits inside the crown of the hat, or you can wear it loosely on top of longer hair, with the brim turned slightly upwards.


For formal events, you should generally wear the “flat” style, so that the brim is perpendicular to the ground. However, you might also find a slight decline at the front of the hat acceptable. Alternatively, if you are wearing your hat for informal occasions, you can go with the upturned look, in which the front of the brim is turned upward, revealing more of your face. While this style works for any gender, it is particularly popular with women.

However, it is important to remember that the “flat” look is often considered the standard or correct way of wearing a Panama hat. Many Panama hats already have an upturned brim in the back and a downturned brim in the front. Consequently, you must be careful not to overdo any changes in the level of the brim, especially if you plan to wear the declined look. If the decline is too sharp, you could end up covering too much of your face. Fortunately, you do not have to be as careful with the upturned look — though a very steep incline could cause you to lose your hat if a strong breeze comes along!

Finally, you must also factor in the time of day or night. Typically, Panama hats work very well during midday hours, as the brim naturally keeps the sun out of your eyes. This is why a flat or slightly downturned look is almost always acceptable during the day. However, at night, you should default to a flat or more inclined look. This is due to the fact that you won’t have the need to keep the sun out of your eyes. Plus, wearing a downturned brim at night can look suspicious, so it is best to let people see your face as much as possible!

We hope you found this guide on Panama hats useful! If you’d like to acquire a high-quality Panama hat for your own collection, be sure to check out Bellissimo Hats today!