What is a Panama Hat?

So, we get lots of questions about Panama hats.  We'll always do our best to answer these and will start posting some of them to this blog soon.  However, before we do that, it's probably best if we spend a little time thinking about the basic question - what is a Panama hat?

If you know the answer to this, then that's great - please explore the rest of our blog and website.  But we do find that, particularly among non-hat wearers, there is confusion.  Some think that a Panama is defined by the fact it's a straw hat with a black band around it.  Others think that it's a reference to a particular shape of hat.  Yet others have no idea - when you tell them that you work for a Panama hat company they look blank and ask "what's that?"".  

So let's start by addressing a couple of these mistakes.  The shape of a hat does not make it a Panama.  There are numerous different styles and shapes of hats out there - such as the Trilby, Fedora, Pork Pie, Homberg and Folder.  But these can all be made by a variety of techniques in many different materials.  For example, you can have a heavy weight felt Fedora that's perfect for British winters.  Neither does the combination of white material with a black band make a hat a Panama.  There are lots of cheap imitations that look like this and call themselves Panamas, but are made out of paper pulp or synthetic fabrics that make them hot and sweaty to wear.  Equally the genuine article can come in all sorts of colours and have all sorts of decorative finishes.

In our eyes, a genuine Panama is defined by one thing only.  The material it is made from.  It has to be Toquilla Palm fibres.  

The Carludovica Palmata (to give it its scientific name) is not actually a palm - technically it's a "Monocotyledon" rather than a plam, because it does not develop a woody trunk.  But we'll ignore that technicality.  This plant produces a beautiful flower and has been cultivated from Central America down to Boliva.  However, its main home is in the humid coastal regions of Ecuador.  Fibres can be stripped from the central stem of young plants and carefully washed, softened and dried to produce a wonderfully soft, flexible and strong fibre.  These fibres can be woven into a variety of shapes - one of these is a cone like shape that forms the basis of a Panama Hat.  Once you have this cone (or "hood") you can bleach, dye and/or shape it as you wish.  

Please explore our store to see the variety of shape and colours we have chosen to make up our range - all of which are true Panama Hats!  

Final Part in our series on how a Panama is made

The final section of our page explaining how a Panama hat is made is complete!  This section deals with how the shape is given to the hat - a process known as blocking.  It also touches on the finishing of the hat with an internal sweatband and the external ribbon.  You can read it by clicking here.

Here at Borges & Scott we generally stick to traditional colours of black or brown for the external ribbon.  

The black band is often said to have initially found favour as a mark of respect following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.  Whilst there is certainly a large element of truth in that statement, black bands were already a popular option - for example pictures around the time of Eloy Alfaro, an Ecuadorean liberal who was involved with the Ecuadorean revolution and ultimately led the rebels to success in 1895, often show black bands being worn.  The brown band, is a more modern twist and really complements the natural shade of some of our hats.

We can also add bespoke ribbons as required by customers.  In the past we have done this for sports teams, colleges, military colors and special events.

May 12, 2015


how made › Panama Hat ›

Ironing the Panama

We've updated our page all about how a Panama Hat is made - please click here to read about the next step - the ironing stage, where the hat starts to develop its shape.


May 01, 2015


how made › Panama Hat ›

Trim and hammer

Yep - the next step in our article on how a Panama is made has been written!  Sorry for the slight gap between this and our last post.  It's been a busy time - summer seems to have started early and we've been busy getting all our lovely hats into the shops for you.  

Click here for more details on how your B&S Panama was made.

April 08, 2015


how made › Panama Hat ›

The "back-weave"...

The next installment of our series on how Panama hats are made is here - read all about how the rim of a hat is made with an intricate "back-weave".  You can read all about it and see pictures by clicking here:  how a Panama hat is made part 4


March 19, 2015


how made › Panama Hat ›

How a Panama Hat is made - Part 2

Check out part 2 of our insightful guide explaining how our Panama hats are made...


March 10, 2015


how made › Panama Hat ›

How a Panama Hat is made - Part 1

We're putting together a page with information, pictures and video about how our Panama hats are made - check out the first instalment here:

How a Panama Hat is made:  Part 1