Al Capone wore one. So did Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway. We are talking about the Panama hat, which is traditionally made in Ecuador. The elegant headwear woven from palm fibres, considered a status symbol for men for decades, is now making a slow comeback.
Custom-woven Panama hats are in worldwide demand and numerous German milliners are in the business of refining ones imported from Ecuador.
"These days when people want to treat themselves to something special, they buy a Panama hat," says Andreas Voigtlaender with satisfaction. He is the chairman of the society of German speciality hat shops (GDH) and runs a hat shop himself in Wiesbaden, central Germany.
The headwear, which is also popular as an elegant sun protection, has now found its way into famous boutiques along the Berlin Kudamm and the Kö in Dusseldorf, the main retail and shopping centres in the cities.
"The Panama hat will never be a mass product like it was in the 1920s and thereafter. But you can definitely say it is experiencing a comeback," said Voigtlaender.
One man who is pleased to hear about this positive trend is Kurt Dorfzaun, a Bavarian whose company in Ecuador has been preparing these hats for decades. "Golfers especially have learned to appreciate our products," said Dorfzaun from his company in the Andes.
"We have been working with the Dorfzaun family for decades," said Klaus Rock, sales manager of the company Mayser in the Bavarian town of Lindenburg. Seamstresses in the Mayser factories give the final touch to some 10,000 prefabricated Panama hats per year.
The name Panama hat comes from the times when the headgear was stored in the central American country of the same name prior to being shipped all over the world.
The hats can be wide, skinny, slack or firm. The hat ribbon can be classic in black material or casual from leather. Women's hats are often decorated with a hand-made flower. The palette of colours is huge, ranging from light and beige hues through to green and bright red.
Men prefer the classic Panama hat and the prices range from 50 to 1,000 euros.
"It is all a question of quality. The finer the fibres, the more expensive the hat," explains Katt Schweizter-Nacken of the federal hat-makers guild. The customers are usually men aged over 30 but the clientele could change with the hat already being worn as part of the "gangsta-look" adopted by artists such as reggae musician Daddy Yankee.