Straw hats are the perfect summer accessory. They’re light, they shade you from the sun, and they come in every possible shape, size, and style. And while they have a long history, they are anything but outdated!
Straw hats aren’t always made from straw, you know! The term is applied to most hats made from woven or braided plant fibers. Straw itself refers to the stalk of grain plants such as oat and rye. Other common hat fibers are sisal, raffia, rush, buntal, abaca, jute, seagrass, ramie, and toquilla palm (used to make those famous Panama hats). These materials vary in color and texture, so they make a wide variety of hats.
Historical images of straw hats exist from the 13th century, but they are much older than that. Ancient peoples from places as scattered as Greece and Japan wore hats of woven or braided plant fibers. Medieval European workers wore them in the fields, while the wealthy created unusual shapes and styles for the sake of fashion. Early American women began wearing wide-brimmed straw “shepherdess hats” instead of cotton caps or bonnets that soaked up sweat. Caps did little to block the sun, and bonnets did a lot to block the wearer’s field of vision, so it’s easy to understand why light, shady straw was preferable. Straw is also easy to decorate, which made it popular among the wealthy as well as workers.
Working class men wore straw hats as well, but it wasn’t until boaters and Panama hats came along that they became truly fashionable. Flat-topped boaters came to America from Italy (where they had been worn by gondoliers) in the 1880’s, and quickly became the dressy summer hat of choice. Panama hats actually come from Ecuador; they were shipped to California via Panama, where gold miners grabbed them without paying attention to their actual origins. Panamas became popular as an alternative to felt derbies, which were stiff and hot in comparison; photos of Teddy Roosevelt in one did a lot to popularize straw among the wealthy. It is said that the best quality “superfino” Panama hats can hold water, and when rolled up, can fit through a ring!
Most straw hats are made of braided fibers that are wound around and sewn together; braids can have different numbers of strands, and there are lots of ways to make them. Asian-style conical hats are woven rather than braided. Just like with felt hats, most straw hats are shaped using steam or hot water. Many popular hat styles can be recreated in straw; straw cowboys hats and fedoras look great!
Nowadays, straw is back in as summer headgear; whether floppy or stiff, wide brimmed or narrow, tall or low crowned, you definitely want to try a straw hat this year. Check out our flower-embellished floppy black, feminine soft pink, and fedora-style cool straw hats.