History of the Panama Hat

From cowboy hats to baseball caps, one’s choice of headwear may be a functional accessory, but it can also truly make or break an outfit—and even evoke a remote time or place. Of all the ways to make such a fashion statement in the warmer months, perhaps no form of attire is more iconic than the Panama Hat. 

With its lightweight construction and intricately woven patterns, this standard-brim hat is equally at home on a tropical shoreline, an exotic safari, or on a balmy summer day right in your own backyard. Notable for its summer weight and breathability, this versatile topper somehow goes with everything in the warm-weather wardrobe. And the Panama Hat is every bit as fashionable today as it was throughout South America and Europe in centuries past. 

Here’s how this summertime staple emerged from its humble beginnings to leave its mark on travel and staycation attire to this day.

Origins of the Panama Hat

While many may be fooled by the name, the Panama Hat actually hails from neighboring Ecuador along South America’s western coast, rather than from Panama itself. Skilled craftsmen and women in the Ecuadorian provinces of Manabi and Guayas, and in the cities of Montecristi and Cuenca in particular, have been hand-weaving the hats—also known as Ecuadorian hats, jipijapa, or sombreros de paja toquilla—since at least the 16th century. 

Experts disagree on the precise circumstances of the Panama Hat’s rise to global popularity, but the headwear was spotted in Europe as early as 1855, when the hats exploded onto the scene of the World’s Fair in Paris. It took a bit longer to catch on in America. But as the Gold Rush drew a mass of travelers out west to California by way of Panama (where the hats had already become popular for more practical reasons relating to the equatorial heat), many Americans first encountered the hats along this part of their journey—forever attributing the hats to Panama. 

It certainly reinforced the misconception when, in 1906, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt ventured to the Panama Canal, and was photographed around its construction site wearing his very own toquilla straw hat. Here, the Panama Hat was truly born on the world stage. 

The Panama Hat’s Form and Function

Sure, at Panama Jack, we may be a little biased. But we think the Panama Hat really does look great on just about everyone—men and women alike. It works as an accent to a crisp linen sundress or summer suit, and brings a touch of refinement to everyday beach and backyard barbecue attire. There’s truly no wrong way to wear one. 

But there’s much more to this seasonal favorite hat than its pure good looks. Whether yours is made from the plaited leaves of a traditional toquilla palm, from other variants of straw and silk, or from any number of other more modern materials, there are a few characteristics that are always at the heart of any Panama Hat.


Designed with an intricate and supremely tight weave, Panama Hats are lightweight and breathable, allowing your head to release heat and naturally cool the body in warmer climates, as well as to soak up those heavenly coastal breezes as they come.

Sun Protection

Despite the cooling effects of the woven fibers, Panama Hats are also designed to protect the face and neck from those harsh summer rays. This ability has made them a staple for travelers and locals alike in tropical climates the world over, where the sun shines throughout much of the year.

Features and Fit

As prevalent as the Panama Hat may be today, no two are really alike. From the handwoven patterns to the specific straws and fibers used to craft the hat body,  each hat is a unique artisan creation. Additionally, multiple hat sizes ensure that yours, too, can fit like a glove. 

Introducing: The Panama Jack Premium Panama Hat

Quality craftsmanship meets modern comfort in our all new Premium Panama Hat. Handwoven in Ecuador from select fibers of the toquilla palm, this genuine Panama hat is fashioned using artisan techniques dating back to the time of the incas. A lightweight and breathable body combined with an ultra-soft twill sweatband, and a covered interior crown for added durability means our signature hat will suit you wherever you may roam.