The Panama hat comes in a variety of crown-shapes, but it is distinguished by the material used to make it: The leaves of the Toquilla Palm. The fronds of this particular type of tree are soft, strong and flexible, ideal for making light, durable, breathable summer hats.
The Panama was invented in the early 1800s. Despite what the name suggests, the hats were not invented (or even made) in Panama. They were actually invented in Ecquador. They get the name ‘Panama’ because that was the country to which most of these new hats were exported. The tropical climate of Panama made just such a hat ideal to cope with the soggy, humid conditions in just such a country. As the hat’s fame spread around the world, it became a popular summertime hat and general travel-hat. It’s light construction and breathable material made it ideal for summer use and its soft, crushable material (which would retain its shape with some gentle prodding after being unrolled) made it perfect for travelling, when a man could just roll up the hat, tie a ribbon around it and put it in his suitcase.