This now famous hat gained its notoriety when a photo was taken of American President Theodore Roosevelt in November 1906, during a visit to the Panama Canal construction site.
However, this hat was actually born more than three centuries ago in Ecuador, in the town of Montecristi, where it was first called a "toquilla" (small hat). A palm-like plant called Carludovica palmata grows profusely in this region and its leaves, once dried, become the ideal material for the meticulous weaving necessary to make this hat.
The Panama hat is unique not for its shape per se, but rather its traditional workmanship, and may require up to ten months of work to complete. Although it does boast a certain sophistication, it’s for practical reasons that the workers building the Panama Canal adopted it, anxious as they were to protect themselves from the stifling heat.
A century later, this is still one of the reasons that account for its growing success at the French Open, where it has been worn by spectators since 1928. The sun's rays can indeed be a cursed blessing for those who watch the matches without any protection. The Panama hat thus represents the ideal solution for preventing sunburn while remaining elegant.Nowadays, 2,000 hats are sold during the two weeks of the tournament. "The Panama hat has become an emblematic product," explains Valérie Cattini, Fashion Merchandiser for the French Tennis Federation. "Sales increase year after year, especially when we experience sunny weather like last year." The hats are now also for sale online throughout the year.
To satisfy increasing demand, the number of hats available has grown considerably. In the tournament shops, you can now find numerous models, from the classics with red-clay or navy-blue colours to the most fanciful, with colourful brims or flecked straw that allows for patterns.
Aficionados can opt for the hand-woven Panama from Ecuador with straw fibres or choose a cellulose-fibre model made in Italy. In summary, the Panama is a quality hat that confers a certain elegance, with the advantage that it is light, easy to carry and can be worn with anything.
Now an essential accessory, specific models have been designed for special events. In 2017, Panama hats embroidered with the inscription "Rive droite" and "Rive gauche" were made for the inauguration party of the partner village. For Women's Day in 2012, Panama hats with pink clay-coloured ribbons were offered for the occasion.