Smooth Sailing into Summer

by Miranda Hilderbrand

You may be wondering “which hat will be a perfect and unique accessory for this summer?” – our answer, the ever-classic Boater. This beloved treasure is an absolute must for summer picnics and barbecues, as well as savvy headgear for any formal events happening in these upcoming warmer months.

What exactly is a Boater, you ask – it is a hat that can simply described as one with a flat brim with straight sides to the crown that has a perfectly flat top. It has layers of stiffly woven sennit straw that allows it to be relatively lightweight and it typically has a solid or striped grosgrain ribbon around the crown. Think of the gondoliers in Venice, which is where this hat originated.

Like all hats, the Boater has its own unique history. While many have cited the creation of this hat to have been in the 1880s, there have been accounts of the first Boater originating in 1822 in the English town of Luton in Bedfordshire. Nevertheless, the Boater soared to popularity and became widely known in the 1880s with the gondoliers in Venice. It was these Italian immigrants who brought this amazing hat all over Europe and to the United States.

As the name suggests, the Boater was a very popular hat for boating and sailing. If you had a yacht, this was the hat you wore. However, like many other hats, the Boater is just one its many names. You may also hear it referred to as a Basher, Skimmer, Katie or Cady hat, a Sommer, a Sennit Hat and even a Can-Can hat.

The Boater became known as “the hat of the people” in the early decades of the 20th century. It was the hat of the working man, the middle class and even the elite, in fact Titanic tycoon John Jacob Astor IV would frequently wear a Boater with his suits. That is what is so amazing about this hat; it has been and still is a hat that is both formal and informal. The Boater could be seen anywhere from picnics in the park, a day at the races or at an evening soiree in high society.

Some look at the Boater and are reminded of its historical background in terms of government, politics and even education. It has been said that in the pre-World War I years, the Boater was part of the unofficial uniform of FBI agents. It also became synonymous with politicking and became the official hat of the Democratic Party. The Boater also was established as one of the most potent status symbols of many private and Ivy League colleges. Students and alumnus would embellish their hat with a ribbon band that was in the colors of their school. Also many private and boarding schools added the Boater to part of their school uniforms in the United States and Europe.

You may also look at the Boater and have your mind immediately drawn to the entertainment industry. Not only was it a favorite accessory for many Vaudeville entertainers in from the 1880s to the 1930s, it also became the hat of choice for many Barbershop Quartets in the 1940s to present day. It is not uncommon to put on a Boater and have the urge to start tap-dancing or even burst into song and dance – I’ve seen it happen!

The Boater was a very common hat to see in many classic movies and several television series. In the 1920s and 1930s the Boater became the staple accessory to French actor Maurice Chevalier. He would tip his hat forward, pairing it with a tuxedo while performing on stage and it was prominent in the 1958 film, Gigi. It was also worn by many characters in 1968’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Stars such as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly were frequently seen wearing Boater hats and Desi Arnaz would wear one as Ricky Ricardo in I Love Lucy.

I recently saw a quote simply stating “Straw Boaters are back”. It is a must as a classic throwback for males and can be coily cocked to the side or angled towards the front for females. This is one classic that will most definitely not stay in the past. Here at Hatbox, we can help you find your own perfect Boater so sail on in – we’re holding your hat.

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