In the 18th century, a notable development of hat production took off. The headwear bore several names like Jipijapa, Montecristi, Panama and Toquilla straw hats. Toquilla is derived from the word toque, the name of the headwear that the Spaniards wore at the time of the conquest. Soon after the conquistadors came, some French scholars and scientists explored the new continent. While the Toquilla hat production had already established itself, Panama became the trading center of South America and then in the world. Traders came to trade their gold,sugar and coffee with the popular Ecuadorian straw hats.
The first voyagers presented emperor Napoleon with one of the finest black straw hats during his exile which he later exchanged with the magnificent white Montecristi hat that stayed with him for a long time. With the coming of more Spanish entrepreneurs, straw hats trade system was perfected to ensure a smooth flow of headwear production for exportation. Circuits of hat weavers were set up and commercial centers were opened that paved the way for these headwear to other countries in the world. Straw hats then began its conquest of the United States and thereafter increased exportation and competition.
The success of hat trade in Ecuador was quite phenomenal. US President Theodore Roosevelt made the front pages of the world newspapers sporting and popularizing one of his favorite Panama straw hats on his tours. Summer headwear by tradition, these lend prestige to statesmen and celebrities all over the world. The popularity of these hats quickly spread everywhere. In Ecuador everyone knows the art of weaving but not all weavers are capable to produce the finest Panama or Montecristi. Some produced their own version of headwear but few are capable of making the finest hats in the world.
Super fine hats take four to six months to finish creating a marvel of lightness and purity. It takes a lot of order, skill and straw of great suppleness to create the unique Montecristi headwear. Today, the finest straw hats are rare but they continue to journey towards lands and seasons, bringing the softness and brilliance of these hats that are peculiar to Latin America. With a simple band of black cloth and a wide brim for protection, nothing is more desirable than the finest hats that are woven to perfection, a classic symbol of elegance and refined lifestyle, the legendary headwear that are here to stay forever.