"A straw hat with a straight brim and ribbon band; originally worn with blazer and flannels while boating." Janey Ironside, A Fashion Dictionary, 1968
English picnickers, c.1900
Edwardian lady golfers. Via.
While its origins seem to be slightly muddled, with some tracing it to Venice, some linking it to sailing boats, or – as Janey Ironside does above – to jolly leisure pursuits, there’s no escaping how popular the boater was in the second half of the nineteenth century. Straw hats were worn by men and women of all social classes, and school children too, generally as summer wear. In the United Kingdom, Luton ‘the boater borough’, became a boom town from 1840 to 1900 because of the popularity of its straws. And the town’s fortunes also declined as hat wearing became less popular throughout the twentieth century (although this British Pathé film shows the construction of a straw boater in the town in 1952).
The boater is back in fashion again, albeit in a much lesser way. Celine included an interpretation with an exaggerated crown in its Pre-Autumn 2013 collection, while Missoni have created a version with one of their signature knits as a trim. High street versions are also available from places including River Island and Topshop. However, it’s hard to work out how to wear a boater without looking like you are about to burst into a show tune at any moment. Harriet Love’s advice from 1982 that, “they look modern on women when worn with a sailor-style shirt, with a pleated skirt or shorts" today seems horribly dressing-up box. Perhaps it's better to leave the nautical theme well alone and instead wear the boater with a glorious dress that can live up to this particular hat's promise of summer larks and lazy days. An outfit suitable for a public holiday, such as today.
Hardy Amies said this about the boater in 1964: "There have been several attempts to revive the popularity of this hard straw hat; all without success. It is better left to elegant fishmongers, and Harrovians."You have been warned.