February 03, 2010

Panama Hats.

   I was always impressed by the beauty, style and simplicity of Panama hats. Actually, this hat is not made in Panama, therefore, it isn’t part of the country’s folklore. But I wanted to do a post about it and classified in the category of folklore because it’s a clothing’s handmade article. Its glorious fame was accidental since it graced the heads of men who took part in the history of Panama.
     Genuine Panama hats are made in Ecuador, and the most famous are those from a city called Montecristi. The raw material of the Panama hat is known as "Toquilla" but was called by scientists "Carludovica Palmata" in honor of the King of Spain Charles IV and his wife Ludovica. It is a type of palm that grows only along the coasts of Ecuador, between 100 and 400 meters above sea level and where the land remains wet.

     Before a hat weaving, the weaver must decide the fineness of the hat. The thinner the straw, the finer the hat. This is accomplished by separating or cutting with nail, one, two or three times the fiber of the leaf to achieve the desired thickness of the straw. The palm has to be wet so that the fiber is not broken. To measure the quality of the fabric of a hat simply count the number of weaves per square inch. If there are less than 100 weaves per square inch, the hat is considered low quality. Hats with more than 1200 weaves per square inch are considered fine and the hat can cost more than $ 1,000. It is logical, because the thinner the fiber, most weaves have to make the weaver to finish the hat. In the country, in Panamanian souvenirs shops, you can find Panama hats, at prices among $10 to $15. They have the same design, but the fiber of the fabric is thick, so they are not fine.


     The toquilla hat was known as Panama hat because the construction of the canal, where it was used for protection against the hot sun. Its popularity increased when U.S. president, Theodore Roosevelt, visited the construction works of the Panama Canal and was photographed wearing a Panama hat. The photograph went around the world in print.
     The Panama hat style was widely used in costume design for Hollywood films such as The Wind, Casablanca, Key Largo, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Man Who Would Be King, and Dick Tracy.

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