The Real Panamá Hat

When I arrived in Panamá, I wanted to purchase a Panamá hat, so I went shopping. What I found were high prices and small sizes. Instead, I bought a black floppy hat. Hats are popular in Panamá because they offer shade from the tropical sun.

The Panamá hat, known worldwide, did not originate in Panamá. It was created and continues to be made in Ecuador. The hat was made popular in Panamá at the time of the building of the Panamá Canal and when men were crossing Panamá to go to the California Gold Rush. Panamá exported large quantities of this hat throughout the world, giving rise to the notion that it was made in Panamá. The hat comes in three different styles; the finest hats can take up to 8 months to weave.

The real Panamá hat [my term] is called the Pintao. These hats, originating in Central Panamá, are made by hand, a skill which has been passed down from generation to generation. No industrial process has ever been created that could make these hats. Producing a hat is a family project involving 4 to 5 people and taking 3 to 10 weeks. Local plants and swamp mud are used to make the hat, the leaves being stripped of their fibers. These fibers are buried in mud for curing and then further cured in the sun. The fibers, white or yellow in color, are then braided together to produce bands.

The bands are then wrapped around a form creating a turn and sewn together from the top down. A hat consists of 15 to 24 turns; the more turns, the higher the value.  The prices can range from $150 to as much as $400. Because it is very difficult to get the ends of the colored bands to meet, the closer they come together, the higher the price. The whole fascinating process can be seen in this YouTube video:

The Pintao was originally worn by the workers in the field. Today, the hat is worn by both men and women, either for a special occasion or for daily use. The way it is worn sends a message:

  • the brim folded up in front and back indicates the wearer is a successful person
  • folded at the back only indicates an intellectual person
  • folded at the front only indicates a womanizer
  • no folds indicate nothing but protection from the sun
  • tipped forward indicates sadness, especially during mourning

The Pintao may never outplace the Panamá hat’s reputation, but the hat is significant in Panamanian culture, even today.

Fact: A place in Panamá is one of the few places in the world where you can view the sun rising in the west and setting in the east


Credit: Thanks to my friend Barry, the proud owner of 4 Pintaos, for suggesting the idea and forwarding me documents for this post. Suggestions always welcome at:

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