The Tom Smarte Guide to the Panama Hat

The Panama Hat

Panama Hats are wardrobe essentials for the summer months for those looking to add a touch of glamour to their outfits. This stylish men’s summer hat is the perfect accessory that has seen its recent rise in popularity as can be seen in crowds at Wimbledon, Lord’s and Glastonbury and at summer weddings throughout Great Britain. But what differentiates the Panama straw hat from a regular straw trilby or fedora hat?

A genuine Panama hat is a craft hat made from a specific plant known as the toquilla palm, which is native to Ecuador. It produces a very fine, lightweight weave that is also incredibly strong, unlike regular straw that is heavier and more fragile.

So why is a vintage hat from Ecuador known as a Panama hat? The reason dates back to the construction of the 48 mile long Panama Canal that links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. When construction commenced in 1881, most of the workforce were brought in from Ecuador who all wore their lightweight yet sturdy hats to shade themselves from the sun. As photos made their way across the globe of the work in progress, many started asking the question ‘Where can I get one of those Panama hats?’

There are different grades of Panama hat, which differ according to the fineness of the weave. The tighter, narrower weave is much lighter and more flexible, but requires much more time and work to create, which results in a higher cost. There is no standardised terminology for the different grades, with some referring to the finest weave incorrectly as Montecristi, which is only a reference to the coastal Ecuadorian town where some of the toquilla plant weaving takes place. Cuenca, a town in the Ecuadorian mountains, is the other main area where the toquilla plant is harvested and again is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the lower grade Panama hat.

Traditionally, the Panama hat was always made in the classic wide brim fedora hat shape in a natural colour with black ribbon. However, at Tom Smarte we like to push the boundaries a little and have designed our Panama hat collection in not just the classic natural fedora but also in the trilby and pork pie hat shapes in a combination of colours with more contemporary ribbons.

We like to help you stand out from the crowd while still enjoying the full benefits of the classic Panama hat.