Panama Hat vs Fedora - Ultimate Buyer Guide

Panama Hat vs Fedora - Ultimate Buyer Guide
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Gary Watrous

The main difference between a Panama hat vs fedora is that a Panama hat is made out of straw, and a fedora is typically made from felt.

 

So the biggest difference is the material.

 

Panama hats are woven from strands from the jipijapa plant, while men's fedoras are usually made from felt. We also sell fedoras with felt crowns and leather brims

 

Other differences between Panama hats vs Fedoras include: 

 

  1. Color - Men's fedoras are typically brown or black, while Panama hats are beige or white. That said, you can find bright colored fedoras and fedoras with red under brims are popular these days too.
  2. Shape - Both hats have a tear-shaped crown that’s pinched in the front. Both hats have hat bands and wide, curved brims that can be snapped up or down. Because they’re softer, some people recommend folding and rolling these hats when you travel. But it’s actually really difficult to restore them to their original shape so we advise against packing Panama hats and fedoras. 
  3. Origin - Despite its name, the Panama hat hails from Ecuador. After actress Sarah Bernhardt wore a fedora on stage, they became popular in America. 
  4. How They're Made - While you can buy factory-made Panama hats, many are still handmade in Central and South America. Most fedoras are handmade, but machine-assisted. Fedora hat makers buy felt hoods and steam them ouver blocks they create to form the crown of the hat. They press felt hoods over head-shaped, wooden blocks. Custom fedoras are hand-pulled over blocks shaped after the client’s head size. Panama Hat and Fedora Hat with specifications

What is a Panama Hat?

Origin

The Panama hat has a misleading name since it originated in Ecuador around the turn of the 20th century. It's unclear when the hat was "born." That said, historians note that president Teddy Roosevelt wore a Panama hat after returning from the country in 1906. Since Roosevelt was in Panama to oversee the canal's construction, people assumed that he got the hat there, and the name stuck.

 

Theodore Roosevelt with a Panama HatTheodore Roosevelt waves a Panama hat to the crowd after returning from Ecuador.

 

We should mention that Panama hats bear a striking resemblance to the Florentine straw hat. Florentine hats date to the mid-18th century, so it's possible the Panama hat was itself a copy. 

 

We sell a variety of contemporary and classin panama hats.

 

Anatomy of a Panama Hat

Traditional Panama hats are woven with leaves from the jipijapa plant or the Toquilla palm tree. These hats have a 4.5-inch high profile and an indented tear-shaped crown formed by a pinched crease in front. 

 

Milliner constructing a Panama hat in EcuadorMilliner constructing a Panama hat in Ecuador.

 

The brim is at least 3 inches wide, and the construction is flexible. The brim can be snapped up or down. The hat band is often fastened with a concho and adorned with exotic feather plumes.

 

In silhouette, a Panama hat vs. a fedora is the same, which is why some people get them mixed up. From a distance, they are indiscernible, but up close, their textures set them apart. 

Caracas Panama Hat by American Hat MakersCaracas Panama Hat by American Hat Makers

 

If you're trying to pack a Panama hat, you'll need to flatten the creases and roll the hat tight. But, we don’t recommend doing this. Other people will tell you it’s fine, but restoring it to its original shape is more pain than its worth.

 

Most Panama hats are handmade while most fedoras are made with a felt press.

Map of locations where Panama and Fedora are wornIn temperate and subtropical climates, Panama hats are worn March through April, while Fedoras are worn September through February. Panama hats are worn year round in equatorial, subequatorial and tropical climates. Fedoras are worn year round in polar and subpolar climates.

How to Wear a Panama Hat

The best time to wear a Panama hat is in hot and sunny weather. Depending on the size of the weave, these hats are breezy. 

Person in a crowd wearing a Panama Hat

To capture a roguish demeanor, feel free to tilt the hat forward and snap down the brim to partially cover your eye line. These hats work with sunglasses since you have to wear them outdoors. You may want to wear a Panama hat without messing up your hair. If so, buy it a half-size bigger so it doesn’t fit too tight on your crown. That said, hats should sit two fingers above your eyebrow. Tilt a larger hat back so that it won’t rest on your ears.

 

Who Wears Panama Hats?

This hat works well for both men and women, although men are historically the target demographic. We’ve seen Meghan Markle, Mischa Barton, Bill Murray, Prince Charles, and Madonna wearing Panama hats.

 

Where to Wear a Panama Hat

Panama hats used to be worn primarily in sunny, tropical climates. But with global temperatures on the rise, Panama hats are being worn year-round these days. These hats are no longer just for vacation. You can wear them anytime, anywhere. 

Group of young adults wearing Trilby hats

Panama hats are a way to bring shade with you wherever you go. Panama hats are most popular at outdoor events like Cannes, music festivals, garden parties, grand-slam tennis tournaments, and horse racing. If you want something nicer than a baseball cap, Panama hats bring style and cool shade to your appearance, especially in warmer weather.

What is a Fedora Hat?

Bionda fedora hat by American Hat MakersBionda fedora hat by American Hat Makers

Origin

The fedora is most notable for showing up in many movies and TV shows, from Casablanca to Raiders of the Lost Ark. So, it's fitting that the hat originated in the theater. Actress Sarah Bernhardt wore the hat in a play called Princess Fedora in the late 1800s. 

 

Mugshot of gangster wearing a fedora hatMug shot of deceased gangster Legs Diamond wearing a classic fedora with the brim snapped up. Photo by http://www.berfrois.com/2012/03/patrick-downey-jack-legs-diamond/ ; published as early as July 20, 1929, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18296026

 

The look became instantly iconic, although the fedora was mostly in vogue from the 1920s to the 1940s. Since felt is made from sheep’s wool, fedoras are environmentally friendly with a low carbon footprint. More expensive, custom fedoras are made from fur, rather than wool.

 

Anatomy of a Fedora

The shape of a fedora is the same as a Panama hat. The design has a 4 to 6” high crown with a tear-shaped crease and a pinch in front. The brim can be snapped up or down. 

 

Young man wearing a Panama Hat

 

Fedoras are made from soft, pliable felt. Wide-brimmed fedoras might curve down on both sides like the one worn by everyone’s favorite archeologist, Indiana Jones. Fedoras can be made from felt or fabric, but if they’re straw, they’re called Panama hats. 

 

Also, if the brim is less than two inches wide, it’s called a trilby. This hat is what Frank Sinatra and Jason Mraz both wore. 

 

How to Wear a Fedora

You can wear a fedora with a tailored suit or jeans, a blazer, and loafers.

 

If you want to look like Bogie, snap the brim down. This option lends an air of mystery, which is why it worked so well in film noir.

 

Who Wears Fedoras?

Initially, women saw the fedora as a feminist symbol, and it was mostly women who wore them through the Roaring 20s. However, men also liked the look, and Hollywood helped push the fedora into the mainstream. 

 

Movies featuring rogue hero protagonists wearing fedoras, like Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and still resonate today. But Al Pacino actually wore a homburg with a pencil curl brim in The Godfather. That was instead of a traditional soft felt fedora with a snappable brim. 

 

Where to Wear a Fedora Hat

The fedora works well as an everyday hat, and it also adds style to special occasions. While this hat was much more common a few decades ago, it’s a great way to stand out today.

 

Many celebrities wear fedoras at events, including Brad Pitt, Justin Timberlake, Johnny Depp, and Britney Spears, among others. Fedoras work well in all climates, from New York to Los Angeles and everywhere in between. 

 

Actor Johnny Deep wearing a felt fedora hatActor Jonny Deep in felt fedora hat in Central Park NYC.

 

Now that you know the difference between a Panama hat vs fedora, you can decide which one’s right for you.

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