Wondering what’s the difference between a Fedora and a Panama hat? This Panama hat vs. fedora hat debate could last about as long as these hats have been around. It is one with many facets and aspects to consider. Both hats have a similar shape and style, in fact, without knowing what they are made of, you may not be able to tell them apart. But there are major, specific differences between the two. The most important one is the material each is made of.
Panama Hat Vs. Fedora: Material Matters
Both hats may be shaped and styled the same. However, there are specific differences between the Panama and fedora hat—the most important is the material the hats are made of.
Panama hats are made of toquilla straw—a fine grain straw made from the toquilla palm tree. Fedoras are made of felt, leather or any variety of straws from paper braid to natural sea grass. They are also crafted using traditional hat making methods. Real Panama hats are crafted by hand, woven in Ecuador with methods that are decades old and born of a cottage industry started by craftsman.
It’s proper to say that any fedora made with toquilla straw and woven in Ecuador is a Panama Hat. But not all straw fedoras are Panamas—and not all Panamas are fedoras either.
What to Wear: Fedora Vs. a Panama Hat
The fun part is deciding which one to wear: a fedora or a Panama hat. The answer is whichever suits your style and taste that day. But here’s a few things to consider. Panama hats are excellent choices outside in the hot sun. They are very light, offer excellent sun protection and their fine weave makes them breathable. They are also highly portable, some can be rolled extremely tight without losing their shape. Finer woven Panama hats can even hold water.
Some straw fedoras offer similar qualities but its hard to find one that really outdoes the Panama hat. So, if you are traveling to a tropical location, or plan to be out in the sun, choose to wear a Panama hat vs. a fedora every time. It will offer better protection and keep you more comfortable. It’s also a highly stylish hat that looks amazing with tropical clothing.
When you want something more stylish, urban and dignified, opt for the fedora hat. It’s style and panache simply can’t be beat in this setting. Nothing beats a sharp-looking felt fedora or straw fedora during a night on the town.
Shape and Style: Fedora and Panama Hats
The fedora and Panama hat both have a very similar shape in most cases. Each has a low crown, pinched front, and moderate wide brim. A Panama hat is often shaped exactly like a fedora, since it is the material the really defines what is a Panama hat, it can also be shaped like a boater, or even a porkpie hat. A fedora hat is always shaped with the low, pinched crown and brim. Both hats often have a hat band or ribbon, and can come in both wide brim and narrow brim styles, curled or straight.
Cultural Differences Between Fedoras and Panama Hats
The Panama hat is a piece of culture. Originating in Ecuador, these hats have been woven there by craftsman for centuries as far back as the 1600s. The hats are crafted using a special weaving technique. But it wasn’t until centuries later, in the 1830s, that these hats became so popular. That’s when they also became known as the Panama hat. Manuel Alfaro, an entrepreneur starting importing these hats, selling them mainly to prospectors in California, via passage through Panama. Hence the name, the Panama hat.
The art and practice of weaving Panama hats is now an official part of the country’s heritage, as of 2012 when it was added to the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List.
Design and Crafting
There are special techniques to making a Panama hat and the creation of one is considered an art form. The material is first woven using one of two main techniques, and then it is shaped or blocked into form. Fedora hats are crafted in many different ways, depending on the type of material. Felt fedoras are shaped and blocked using traditional hat-making methods. Straw fedoras are also woven, blocked and finished like any other straw hat.
History of Fedoras and Panama Hats
Fedora hats started to become popular in the later 1800s and have been a stylish icon ever since. During the 1920s, 1930s and through the 1960s, which some say is the height of their adoption by main-stream culture, the hats were worn by just about everyone.
Panama hats gained in popularity during the gold rush era, in the 1830s, after efforts to import them in mass numbers began. They are still widely worn and appreciated today by those who love the function and form of this highly versatile hat.