In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Panama Canal while it was under construction. He was photographed wearing a white straw fedora, the kind that the workers wore, and started a fashion trend in the US of wearing Panama hats. A hundred years later, those hats are still fashionable, but they aren’t Panama hats. They were made in Ecuador. A hat company in Ecuador was shipping them out through Panama.
But Panama does have a unique hat with a long tradition. It is the sombrero pintando, which means painted hat in English, and it’s known as the pinta’o. Despite the name, the pinta’o is not painted. The distinctive stripes are made of dyed natural fiber and are stitched into the hat as it is made. Five kinds of natural fibers are grown, harvested, sun-dried to make them white (or dyed), braided together, and then hand-stitched to make a hat. The tradition goes back 200 years, and the pinta’o is designated on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In Panama, men, women, and children all wear a pinta’o, and many people have an everyday hat plus a more expensive one for social occasions. Most are custom made for the wearer and can be quite expensive. Read how pinta’os are hand made in Panama at Smithsonian.
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