Okay, we are not talking any old straw hat here, we are talking about traditional panama hats made from toquilla straw. With a history dating back to at least 4000 BC (and the modern form taking form after the appearance of Spanish conquistadors in Ecuador), these hat have a long and glorious history. The prehispanic cultures of Ecuador used the toquilla to make headwear for thousands of years before Spanish explorers made contact and got local artisans to produce hats in traditional European styles for them to wear while in the tropics.
In 1835, an entreupenuer named Manuel Alfaro settled in Montecristi and opened his hat weaving business. Shortly after, he started to export to Panama before setting up shops there. After this, these hats became known as Panama Hats because Panama was the most important commercial centre for the trade of the hats (and many other items), despite most of them being made in Ecuador.
Today, the hats are a fashionable summer accessory, especially in warmer climes but also occasionally in the UK. The best quality hats are not cheap, unlike plainer straw hats, and they are marketed by some of the top names in the hat industry, such as Borsalino and Lock. A top-quality, Superfine Monte Cristi Trilby can cost upwards of £700 … but for those on a budget, a Borsalino Fine Trilby can be had for £168. Then again, neither of those match the quality available from Brent Black, where the highest quality hats can cost more than $25,000.
For those who are wondering how they should wear their panama hat, may I suggest you follow the lead of fictional detective Charlie Chan and wear it with a white/cream/grey linen suit. They also look good with black suits (as Winston Churchill can testify), but I think that they look best with a simple solid-colored silk shirt (none of those crazy ‘Hawaiian’ patterned ones), plain trousers, and comfortable Birkenstocks.
Currently, I don’t have a nice panama hat but one could be very handy in a hot & humid D.C. summer.