Meticulously hand-woven, these hats are considered a national symbol and treasures of Ecuador. The authentic and the only ones, that are recognised by the UNESCO as world’s intangible cultural heritage in 2012 are made in Cuenca city and the most renown hats are made in the village of Montecristi, where only 2,000 hats are produced every year.
So if you are one of those that appreciate the quality and beauty, the following tips will help you to spot the ‘fake’:
1. Ask about the material used, the imitation hats are made from poor quality straws like the Iraca, Tetera, Enea and worse yet, there are hats made from raffia, paper or plastic. The Toquilla (Carludovica Palmata) is 'the one', a beautiful plant in the Cyclanthus family that gives that smooth effect to the authentic hats, and as all natural materials, this straw fibers show the presence of imperceptible impurities, compared even with diamonds in the nature to determinate its quality.
2. Look at the top of the hat, if you see a circular rose on the center of the crown, then it is genuine as that is the beginning of the hand-weaving. Copies don't have that rose, the imitations have a square or a triangle on the top centre.
3. The characteristic natural smell, a genuine Panama hat is made from Toquilla straw (a short-stemmed palm cultivated in equatorial humid and tropical coastal areas), thus, that gives off this unmistakable odour.
4. Special attention to the 'back weaved' brim. All the seams and edges of the hat must be minutely finished by hand with the same straw, and never sewed by machine (bound edge) or glued down (under-welt). Remember, we are talking about straw hats considered master pieces worldwide, so, even their edges should reflect its purity and millinery art. Therefore, it is very important to get a nicely finished edge with no material other than straw and no stitching.
5. Have a look inside, the weave should be uniformly done with few or no gaps between the interlaced straws. Less holes means better quality.
6. Check the inside tags or labels and look for the brown stamp that guarantees the origin, the finest will even have the weaver’s signature hidden out there.
7. The real Panama hat can be folded or rolled up. But this doesn’t mean that the hat can be stored rolled up or folded because the purpose of rolling a Genuine Panama Hat should always be for the convenience of travel only, as it would lose its shape and it might require to be ironed to recover the original shape.
8. Finally, the original hats can be carefully hand-washed using warm water to gently remove any mark using a clean cloth but without detergents, and even ironed to be reshaped as you like.
Keep in mind that a Genuine Panama Hat is an individual masterpiece of craftsmanship – it has been conscientiously hand-woven from a natural fibre, so treat it as such.