April 26, 2022 4 min read

A Brief History of the Panama Hat 

Can we get another Gold Rush happening sometime soon… like now? It’s what prompted the construction of the Panama Canal – from that the most beautiful palm straw hat was popularized. We know it as the Panama Hat. Here at Gigi Pip, we’re pretty enthralled with its history + we wanna let you in on all the details! 

palm straw hat

First of All, What is a Panama Hat?

This is the straw hat that elevates every look, no matter the season – it's a classy, strong, handwoven straw hat that is made from the leaves of a palm tree. 

The River was the first Panama hat style we released. We were so impressed with how the finished design turned out + customers loved it just as much (maybe more)! There was so much excitement around our first flat brim straw hat that we immediately started designing another Panama hat option. Which we named the Cove. 


How to Wear a Palm Straw Hat: 3 Gigi Pip Styles

Summer Straw

flat brim straw sun hat

Your white summer dress with a puff sleeve will pair seamlessly with the Cove. We can’t get enough of these breezy neutral colors.

 

Sophisticated Safari Vibes

 panama straw hat womens 

Nothing beats a linen suit jacket with matching shorts, fitted with the River-Ivory. This makes a great look for a vacation down south where the sun is beaming.   
 
Keep it Casual + Cute
oak wide brim sun hat
Wardrobe staples like light jeans + a loose white button-up will always give you the best casual look that you can wear with a Panama hat any day. 

    Types 

    Most of the images of Panama hats from the past can be seen on Theodore Roosevelt while he was overseeing the Panama Canal project or on classy men in old movies. The brim is typically downward in the front + slightly upturned toward the back. 

    These hats can be woven + shaped in all different kinds of ways. There’s the style called Optimo, it’s a dome crown with a thin ridge from front to back + the brim is upturned. Another fun Panama hat style is the Gambler with a curled brim. We prefer a flat brim or pencil roll brim on our palm straw hats, but we like to switch it up for the shape of our crowns. 


    Gigi Pip Palm Straw Styles

     

    womens straw hat

     

    • Leather chin strap? Definitely. The deep brown leather looks so clean + elegant against the toasted tone of the oat + the lighter ivory River. 
    • Would you agree that boater crowns are both timeless + classy?! The Lake boater crown is flat + somewhat shallow giving you a simple look that will never go unnoticed. We styled this hat with a thin black leather band. 
    • We wanted to incorporate the fedora crown into one of our palm straw hats + realized the Cara Loren would be gorgeous in straw so we did two styles - one in a flat brim + the other in the signature Cara pencil brim style! 

    Where did the Panama Hat Originate? 

    Soooo… not in Panama? It’s true – this hat traditionally comes from the coastal regions of Ecuador where the toquilla palm tree grows. 

    Like so many things in fashion, the palm straw weaving techniques needed for this type of hat have spread around to other countries like Guatemala, where we have our Panama hats handwoven. 


    panama hat history

    The Gold Rush (1848 - 1855) – what a time to be alive! The Panama Hat gained its name from the many straw hats that were sold at markets + trading posts along the route heading into California through the Panama Canal.

    Paris, the original + major influencer, introduced this chic straw hat style at the World’s Fair of 1855. Leave it to Paris to embrace a new look + cause a global obsession soon after. 


    How are Panama Palm Straw Hats Made?

    Our palm straw hats come from Guatemala where the leaves are picked + cut into strips. The strips of leaves are boiled, turning them from their natural green to an ivory color + making them easier to separate into thin strands of straw. 

    From that point, the boiled leaves hang on the line to dry outside until completely free of any moisture. Once they’re ready, the ends of each strand are pulled apart further + braided.

    The braided toquilla straw is rolled into a kind of spool + handed off to be sewn in a spiral pattern until an entire hat is constructed! 


    When Was the Panama Hat Invented?

    Natives of Ecuador have been weaving these hats since at least the early 1500s – this is when Spanish conquerors recorded seeing them for the first time. 

    These early headpieces were like nothing the Spaniards had ever seen, the intricate weaving techniques impressed them + the shine of the palm straw was beyond beautiful! 

    Later, around the 1630s, weaving palm straw into hats became a tradition around the coastal areas of Ecuador. “Jipijapa,” was one name that developed for the hat, + they also called it “toquilla,” named for the type of palm tree the straw was derived from. 


    What Does This Straw Hat Symbolize?

    The classic Panama hat represents independence and newly celebrated nationalism for the people of Ecuador following the Liberal Revolution of 1895. Ecuador saw both social and economic advancement during this period. 


    The Montecristi Hat

    One of the first towns in Ecuador to make extremely high-quality Panama hats from the toquilla palm is called Montecristi. So of course, they had to name the hat after the town! 

    Some of the best Panama hats are called Montecristi Superfino, they are completely handmade with the finest straw – they sell for thousands of dollars + they can take up to 6 months to weave from the very first braid up to the finishing touches.  

     

    womens straw fedora hat

     

    We think the history of the Panama hat is as important as the hat itself. Knowing why the weaving techniques from the 16th century are so important, where the palm straw hat comes from (Ecuador), + how it is made are all a big part of why our palm straw styles are so special.  xx 



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