Do you know the history of the famous Panama hat?
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I discovered that the Panama hat was originally from Ecuador and went to Cuenca to visit a company where it is still manufactured… It has existed since the 16th century and remains known all over the world for its quality and style!
Few people really know its origin, its history and how the name of a traditional Ecuadorian hat has become the emblem of a neighbouring country, Panama…
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Let’s go back together in time until the 16th century…
It was at this time that the Spanish conquistadors landed on the Ecuadorian coast. They then notice that the local workers wear large straw hats that cover their ears and the neck.
This type of hats called “tocas” in Spain had become “toquillas” for those local headgear that were smaller. The straw used to make these hats came from a palm tree that grew only on the Ecuadorian coast in abundance, and which, by assimilation, was called the straw “toquilla”.
Very quickly, the Spaniards adopted these hats and decided to have them made in the city of Montecristi, hence the appellation of some hats, always considered the best, because braided with the finest straw. A “Montecristi” can be worth up to 2,000 euros.
Gradually, the growing popularity of the hat spread to the Spanish nobility, and in a short time the king of Spain ordered them to offer them to his wife.
In 1835, little after the end of Spanish rule, an entrepreneur named Manuel Alfaro moved to Montecristi to establish his hats production workshop with his own palm plantations for straw. The local workforce was engaged for his skills to work this straw..
Montecristi’s company quickly exported its hats to Panama, which was then an economic platform and opened counters on site.
His hats began to attract the attention of the foreign public on the spot, who quickly amalgam with the country of sale, and this entirely Ecuadorian product was forever associated with Panama.
1836: creation of Panama hat
In 1836 the city of Cuenca created a Panama hat that differentiated from Montecristi by its bleached and thicker straw, allowing for much faster weaving.
In a short time the economic bet was won and the hat industry became one of the most important for Cuenca.
Later, at the dawn of the gold rush in 1848, a large number of men and women emigrated to California. The most efficient route at the time was to cut through the Isthmus of Panama. By the way, the warmth helped, travelers bought the Panama hat in bulk and praised its merits once they arrived in good wear.
In 1855, a French citizen residing at the time in Panama exhibited in Europe the famous headgear at the Paris Universal Exposition for the first time.
As the country of Ecuador was not on the list of participants, the hats were quickly named “Panama hats”. The craze was fast and he entered quickly in Parisian fashion until being worn by Napoleon III. The emperor became an ambassador of choice, and spread fashion throughout Europe. In Great Britain, the Prince of Wales and future king Edward VII was also a fad for Panama.
Glory in the early 1900s…
Ecuador is opening up to new markets such as South America, the Caribbean and especially Cuba where hats are really indispensable for sugar or tobacco plantation workers.
Also at that time, the US government bought 50,000 hats to help its troops fight the Spaniards under the intense Caribbean sun.
Then, in 1906, during the construction of the Panama Canal, a large number of hats were awarded to American masons and engineers.
The popularity of Panama hat increased by a notch when a photograph of President Roosevelt was taken while wearing it during an official site visit. The press from all over the world had then reproduced the cliché.
Even in Turkey, in 1925, the modernization laws of the country prohibited the wearing of traditional fez and instead ordered the wearing of the panama hat.
Finally, it was in 1944 that the export of panama experienced its golden age with the enthusiasm of Hollywood stars who began to wear the famous headgear under all circumstances.