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29 September 2012 / leggypeggy

Poor John and a Panama hat

Panama hat

Poor John and a Panama hat

Turn Poor John loose in a hardware store and you might not see him again for days. Who knew it was the same for Panama hats.

We spent our last few days in Ecuador in Cuenca, a city in the south and the true home of the Panama hat.

From the moment we walked into the first hat shop, I knew we would be going home with a Panama. Poor John tried to act nonchalant about it, but he had ‘I wanna Panama hat’ written all over his face. And, oh wow, do they suit him!

In the end, he bought a fine hat at the Homero Ortego Factory. If the photographs are to be believed, almost anyone who is anyone has bought their hat here. Mama Ortego is shown photographed with royalty, presidents, beauty queens, actors, actresses and more. Two especially notable Panama wearers on screen have been Father Mulcahy in M.A.S.H. and Julie Roberts in the racing scene in Pretty Woman.

Poor John’s purchase came at the end of a tour of the factory. We learned how the hats are made, the differences in quality and styles, the history of the name and more.

Here’s a very short rundown. The hats are woven from the plaited leaves of the toquilla straw plant. A very fine hat can take up to six months to weave—these cost about $300 each and Poor John did not get the top of the line. He didn’t get the bottom either. 🙂

Sewing hatband

Poor John’s hat gets the final treatment

Today many hats are often started in a village—sometimes whole families work on hats—and then brought to the big city for blocking and finishing.

Cuenca began exporting hats in 1890. At that time, they were sent to the Ecuadorean port of Guayaguil for export. After the Panama Canal was opened, hats were shipped there for export. The name reflects the confusion between the place and port of origin.

All I can say is that after much trying-on and dithering, Poor John bought his Panama in Ecuador, and we watched the salespeople do the final work on his hat—namely sewing the hatband in place. The hat is now in its own box in the bottom of our locker on the truck. I bet he’s itching to wear it.

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Leave a Comment
  1. Your loving daughter / Sep 29 2012 8:42 am

    He could be a detective! Dad looks like a 10th grade spunk in a Panama hat, Libby and I both agree he looks fantastic.


  2. leslieandwayne / Oct 1 2012 11:09 pm

    Now Wayne wants one too! John really does look dashing 🙂


    • leggypeggy / Oct 2 2012 8:46 am

      Oh dang, Wayne should have mentioned it BEFORE we left Ecuador. But I agree, Poor John does look rather dashing in a Panama hat.


  3. Joanne T Ferguson / Oct 2 2012 2:32 pm

    Gday Ever since I saw that Panama Hat photo, I thought how suiting it DOES look on Poor John…plays the unsuspecting detective part well lol Thanks for sharing! Glad he enjoyed and it does look really good on him too! WHOO HOO!


    • leggypeggy / Oct 2 2012 10:26 pm

      Thanks Joanne. It does look good on him. I’ll tell him you said Woo Hoo!


  4. I had just read yesterday in “Mental Floss” that Panama hats were made in Ecuador…so it was a fascinating find!


    • leggypeggy / Aug 12 2014 2:17 pm

      Thanks for dropping in. Very nice to meet someone over a Panama hat. 🙂


  5. chris nightingale / Oct 1 2016 12:05 pm

    I was in thralled with the factory tour l purchased 6 hats. And want more we were a little rushed and guarded my hats as though they were an investment.l could start a business here in Kauai Hawaii.send me your rejects and help the people of Ecuador/will you send me a price list and we could start a business.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 2 2016 11:07 am

      Oh gosh, I wish I had access to some reject Panama hats.


  6. barkinginthedark / Jun 14 2020 4:50 am

    a man, a plan, Panama…continue…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. barkinginthedark / Jun 16 2020 5:39 am

    Peggy, i just now realized that i meant to write: A MAN A PLAN A CANAL PANAMA which is a famous palindrome…o well.

    Liked by 1 person

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