The story of how a typical Ecuadorian product acquired the name of Panama Hat begun in the 19th century. By then, most South American goods, including Ecuadorian straw hats, were first shipped to the Panamanian Isthmus before sailing off to foreign destinations.
Throughout the Gold Rush period, miners on their way to California would buy hats in Panama to protect their heads from the heat, and on their way back home, they would buy them as souvenirs and gifts, too. Hence, the strong, lightweight and attractive, straw hats were already much in demand as personal purchase or gift.
Still, although the term of Panama Hat was already known in the 19th century, the name became officially popular in November 1906, when US President Theodore Roosevelt visited the construction site of the Panama Canal wearing a black-banded straw hat. Local and international press largely covered Roosevelt’s trip, as it was the first official visit to a foreign country by an American President. The pictures of Theodore wearing the straw hat were widely published in the U.S and all around the world, therewith consecrating the straw hat as Panama Hat.
Toquilla straw hats are normally rated into degrees, having weaving and blocking as their measuring factors. Hence, the quality and price of a Panama Hat depends on how many vertical and horizontal straw rows they every square inch it possesses.
Beginning with a Grade #1, that normally has 200 weaves and an average price of $15, quality rises up to a Grade #20+, which can hold up to 2500 weaves per square inch and cost up to $3000.
Besides of the grade, prices vary according to the manufacturing process behind them: a superfine Montecristi can take up to 300 days of hand work and is therefore considered to be the most expensive Panama Hat, costing up to $10.000.
Ever since 1906, Panama Hats gradually acquired more popularity on the global scale, being featured in films and worn by innumerable socialitées, artists and celebrities: from Humphrey Bogart to Sean Connery, to Mick Jagger, Madonna, and Britney Spears.
The Ecuadorian straw hat became extremely relevant in the fashion world, too, inspiring all sorts of designers to include it in their lines of accessories. By the turn of the century, Panamas of all categories and origins could be found in most countries of the world.
Today, in full globalization process, Panama Hats are being replicated and altered in countless way and original hand woven Ecuadorian straw hats have become more difficult to be found, as they blend in with alternative low-cost versions.