President Theodore Roosevelt’s Legendary Panama Canal Fashion

Theodore Roosevelt, America’s 26th President, was quite the trendsetter. Teddy bears, a toy that gained popularity during his early 1900s presidency, were actually named after Mr. Roosevelt. He played a big part in the naming of another popular item that endures to this day: the Panama hat.

Mr. Roosevelt Goes to Panama

In 1903, the United States of America became officially involved with the construction of a cross-country canal in the newly independent nation of Panama. This canal created a direct route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. President Roosevelt had personally overseen a campaign of political and military influence in South America in order to bring the project to fruition. The canal was a big deal for the American government.

Roosevelt used his natural ability to drum up publicity by posing for a series of photos at the Panama Canal construction site in 1906. The photographic technology was relatively new at the time, and President Roosevelt wasn’t shy about using the press to his advantage. Photos of his visit showed a strong, rugged leader dressed crisply in light-colored suits and stylish straw fedoras.

rooseveltpublicityphoto - panama canal
Image credit: Public domain

How the Panama Hat Got its Name

These hats, which we now know as Panama hats, actually come from Ecuador. Members of the Alfaro family started exporting the hats in the late 1800s, using Panama as a point of departure to the rest of the world. President Roosevelt’s photo ops at the canal helped to solidify the perception that these hats are Panamanian in origin. Though we now know that’s not actually the case, the name persists. Chalk it up to Teddy’s powerful influence on both politics and culture.

If you like President Roosevelt’s sharp-dressed look from his 1906 Panama Canal tour, try our men’s Panama hats. Retro-influenced styles such as the Havana Classic or the Portofino Retro can bring some old-school presidential swagger to your wardrobe.


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