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The following was published in a column of jokes in The Washington Herald on May 10, 1914:

But as a matter of fact the real Panama hats are not nearly as pretty as the imitation ones.

I assume the joke has something to do with the opening of the Panama Canal, but I'm still not sure what it means.

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    If I had to guess, it would be that the item of apparel (called a Panama hat) is for dress, but actual hats worn in Panama are utilitarian and not pretty. Possibly relating to the hard labor of the people of Panama vs wealthy US citizens. – DWKraus Dec 16 '20 at 2:33
  • Maybe also related: The item of apparel called a Panama hat is made in Ecuador, and was in 1914, also. I found a reference to Panama hats made in Ecuador as far back as 1902. – shoover Dec 16 '20 at 4:14
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    "Despite their name, Panama hats have never been made in Panama." (wiki) – Tomas By Dec 16 '20 at 4:56
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    As an Okie who's spent some time on his grandfather's working ranch, I can tell you the exact same principle applies to cowboy hats (and pickup trucks). – T.E.D. Dec 16 '20 at 13:43
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This is possibly a reference to the difference in quality and price between the hats made in Ecuador (but sold and spread from Panama) from the early 19th Century and those made in China ('Tamsui hat') in the early 20th Century.

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