In the 1920s the big hit in men´s fashion was an absolutely round straw hat. Because of this round shape it was called in German “Kreissäge”, a circle saw. It had originally been a sailors hat, which is why it was called a boater in English, canotier or matelotte in French. It used to be an indispensable item of every gentleman´s festive outfit and was not to be missed at any dance or ball.

At work outside, in the sun and heat, it is strongly recommended to wear a light straw hat for protection. Little children playing a lot outside, people doing work in fields or gardens, farmers, bricklayers, bikers, mountain climbers, and so on, would all be well advised to wear protective headgear.

A very special straw hat is the panama-hat. The production of such a hat is time consuming and complicated, that is why an authentic panama-hat is quite expensive.
The panama-hat is made of the fibres of the Carludovica Palmata, the Toquilla Palm.
In a painstaking and time-consuming procedure the thin fibres are woven by hand, so it may well take a few months to complete the weaving of a single hat. No wonder that some of the finest panama-hats may cost up to a few thousand dollars. Some of the models can even be rolled up and transported in a little box, without being ruined.

The hats are produced by independent weavers at their homes. Mostly these weavers also cultivate the Toquilla-plant and produce the fibres themselves. For that process the leaves are boiled, hung up to dry, after which the straw is dried over fire containing sulphur. That is how the fibres, made of the torn leaves, get their light colour. The thinner the fibre, the finer the weave turns out and consequently the quality of the finished product.

The weaving is started from the middle. After the top is finished, the raw product is put up on a pedestal, most of the times a stone. The worker can now weave the sides and the brim, in the typical position, standing on his feet, but stooped over, his breast on another, higher pedestal.
At the end of this laborious process the ends of the fibres are tied, overhanging straw is cut off and at last sulphur powder is carefully hammered into the hat. Now the hat may be finished and given its final shape over different forms, with the help of steam and pressure. In that case it is sent on its journey as a real panama-hat, or the unfinished product is bought up at the villages by buyers and is then exported to factories or individual hatters all over the world.

It is not exactly known how the hat came to be named panama-hat. It is certain however, that the hats are made in Ecuador, not in Panama. It seems that the weavers sold some of the hats, as protection from the sun, to men working on the Panama-canal. Since then, the hats which had been called “Jipi-Japa” were named Panama-hats. It is also possible that the hats were being exported through Panama and the name derived from that fact. Equally plausible is the possibility that some businessman found the name Panama-hat more attractive or more market-effective than Ecuador-hat.
Theodore Roosevelt is known to have worn such a hat when he visited at the work-site of the Panama-canal. Many other famous men used to wear Panama-hats. Among them were Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, Erich Honecker, Paul Newman and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of “modern Turkey”. He saw the hat as a symbol of modern times and forbade the traditional “fes”.
Nowadays too, a good straw hat is definitely indispensable to the basic wardrobe of the well-dressed gentleman.