May 15 – Straw Hat Day

Posted on May 15, 2014

Ever since humans first became humans – ever since they first wore ANYTHING – they have covered their heads against the cold or against the sun. From hoods to head wraps, turbans to scarves, baseball caps to top hats, bowlers to boaters, people have sought protection for their precious brain-boxes as well as followed fashion by making, buying, and wearing hats.

Today is supposed to be the day when we Northern-Hemisphere types put away our warm hats—the stocking caps, felt hats, etc.—and replace them with cooler straw hats that will keep the sun off of our heads and faces without keeping our heads so toasty warm. I think that the idea is that straw hats are woven more loosely than, say, felted fabric—and so our heads are more ventilated.

One of the most popular straw hat styles for men has been the Panama hat. The are made in Ecuador, not Panama, but they were shipped to ports in Panama, where travelers and merchants often came to make purchases. In the1800s the Panama hat was showcased in Paris at the Universal Show, and soon it became a must-have accessory for the rich and well-traveled. 
Famous people of the 19th and 20th Centuries who wore and were photographed in Panama hats include Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Nikita Khrushchev, and Harry Truman.

Teddy Roosevelt and Paul
Newman, sporting Panama hats.
A hat factory in Ecuador
The genuine Panama hat is made of Toquilla Palm rather than straw/

A straw hat made from actual straw is the boater, also called a basher, skimmer, cady, katie, somer, or sennit hat. It is made from stiff sennit straw. 

A boater has a stiff flat crown and brim, and it often sports a ribbon as a hat band. These hats were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, especially when boating (hence the name). 

Nowadays they are more common as part of a costume, especially for a barbershop quartet, rather than as a fashion, although a thinner, softer version crops up as popular now and again. Boaters have hung on as a part of boys' school uniforms in some countries as well.

Straw hats for men and women, boys and girls, continue to be varied and popular. 

They're big in casual looks, on beaches, at resorts, and (as always) in the summertime.

Check out this video on how one particular kind of straw hat is made. 

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