Tips for buying Panama Hats
Buying a Panama Hat
Fine Panama Hats are the Rolls Royce's of the hat world. A masterwork of craftsmanship, all
genuine Panama hats are painstakingly hand woven, and even the most modest
Panama hat takes several days of tedious weaving to create from fine straw.
||Panama hats have always held great appeal to wealthy people who
appreciate their fine quality and craftsmanship.
The perfect way to keep cool in the tropics, the Panama Hat is woven
from Toquilla straw, split as fine as a sewing thread. Every time the straw is
split in half, the weaving time increases fourfold, and a “super fine” Panama
hat has thousands of straw threads and takes over a month to weave.
Even today, royalty and movie stars enjoy the craftsmanship of a hand-woven
Panama hat. Fine Panama hats are very expensive, with prices for the best “super
fine” quality commonly exceeding $10,000. Prince Edward VII paid £90.00 for a
fine Panama hat, a sum equal to three months wages of an average worker. A
genuine Panama hat starts with hand-split Toquilla straw, and the super-fine
hats have the straws are sliced as fine as sewing thread.
All original Panama Hats are bleached with sulfur fumes, making them a light
- Standard – The ordinary Panama hats have a rough-hewn look, but
they still take many hours to hand-weave.
- Fino – These “fine” woven hats have finer spilt fibers,
increasing the weaving time by 4x. These hats take up to 40 hours to weave
and retails in the USA for about $400.
- Super fino - (super-fine) woven hats can take over 1,000 hours of
labor to create. They have the texture of silk linen and can cost upwards of
$5,000 in fine men’s stores.
Determining the quality of a Panama Hat
All real Panama hats are entirely hand woven, and the best way to evaluate a Panama hat is to hold it up to the sunlight,
where the fine weave becomes very apparent:
The village of Montecristi Ecuador has been weaving Panama hats for hundreds
of years, and this is Montichristi market with Montichristi hill in the
background. It's not always safe, and you should hire a local escort.
The native weavers are on-display so that you can appreciate the intricate work
that goes into every Panama hat:
Above photos copyrighted by B. Brent Black
The finest Montecristi Panama hats are then painstakingly woven so closely
that the finished hat looks like a sheet of silk cloth. A single “super ma
fin” hat can take the artisan months to complete and careful attention is
paid to every tiny detail. The straws are woven back into the brim so that
there is no stitching anywhere on the hat.
Photos below copyrighted by B. Brent Black
Panama Hats at Montichristi
Real Panama Hats are not made in Panama, and they have been made in
Montecristi Ecuador for hundreds of years.
The Montecristi hats become known as "Panama hats" when Teddy Roosevelt was
photographed wearing one for the Panama canal construction. They
became a status symbol when the rich and famous, film stars (Cary Grant) and
dignitaries (Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill) started
wearing Panama hats.
There are few master weavers left in Montecristi today, and each
hat is a true work of art, representing hundreds of hours of skilled manual
You can also get native Indian woven Panama hat bands, some woven from the
tail-hair of horses:
The Manta Indians also make custom hat bands from their local designs.
The Panama hat weavers can earn as little as 50 cents per hour with a
modest hat taking
several days to weave. On the high end, a “super ma fin” hat (super fine)
Panama hat can cost over $10,000.00 in upscale men’s stores. These fine hats
take up to 1,000 hours of backbreaking labor to weave. At their source in
Ecuador, these amazing handcrafted cost less than $400 dollars at the Montecristi market.
Aficionados of the Panama hat as a threatened art form can visit
B. Brent Black's site for additional
information as well as a supply of the finest Montecristi hats available
today. As far as shade goes, it's definitely better than wearing a
tree on your head.
||Portions of this article are excerpted from the book
South America Insider Adventures by Rampant TechPress.
This is the definitive guide for the U.S. American traveler who seeks
to safely explore South America. You can order it directly from
the publisher and save over 30% at