The Boater hat is an item of clothing that has been both loved and hated. Throughout the hundred and fifty odd years that this style of hat has been in existence, it has been viewed at various times as a charming item of leisure wear for men and women, as an effete symbol of privilege as a compulsory article of school attire, and as jaunty accoutrement for barbershop quartets, vaudevillian performers and appreciators of haute couture.
The boater, so called because it originally topped off the striped blazer and flannel trouser outfit worn by young men while rowing, developed into the universal style for both men and women.
American men as well wore the boater with a modest brim, slightly tilted on the head in a cocky mode, embellished only with a wide, striped grosgrain or silk hatband.
The straw hat or boater hat grew in popularity as a fashion accessory for men in the late nineteenth century and well into the 20th century.
At first this straw hat was designated to summer holidays or summer sports; but soon it was the favorite warm weather city hat for both upper and middle class men. The popularity of the Panama straw dress hat soared at the start of the 20th century when a photograph of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt sporting a stylish fino appeared in the world press. The demand for the chic hat rose.
The world headquarters of the "canotier" manufacturing is Caussade.
Caussade is a commune in the district of Montauban, located in the Tarn-et-Garonne department in the Midi-Pyrénées region in the south of France.
Caussade, an ancient city of the white Quercy or lower Quercy, is located in the hills of Quercy and nicknamed "hat city" due to milliner production in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The straw hat, the famous boater was made in Caussade.
The Straw Hat industry is born from a cottage industry, using "pailloles" braided by shepherdesses of sheep as straw hats. Gathered at Caussade and Septfonds the pailloles are sewn and are used to make hats. The initiative comes from lady Petronilla Cantecor (1762-1846), born "Gleye" at a place called Bourrou", in the parish of St. Martin de Cesquières, a town of Caussade and of peasant origin selling at the market. In 1860, the services of the railway are a boon to the hat industry, since heavy modern machines ship easily to the station platform. Soon local straw is insufficient, it is imported from Italy or in the form of rice straw from the Far East .
The boater is the emblematic hat of Gabrielle Chanel who choose to wear it in reaction against the extravagant headdress usually worn by her contemporaries.
In the second half of the 20th century, the popularity of hats waned. Yet, Ecuador's finely woven Panama hats maintained their mystique. Indeed, expert hatters throughout the world compete for premium grade specimens. Famous people from bygone eras to our day have been captivated by the elegance of the Panama hat. It has graced the heads of Winston Churchill, Nikita Khrushchev, Humphrey Bogart, and Michael Jordan, to name but a few.
Now, A number of elements affect and transform the appearance of a straw hat, including the crown and brim dimensions, the crown shape, band width and color, inside trim, and certainly the straw texture, weave and quality.
The look of a straw or felt hat is specific to an individual's facial features and color, and one style in all likelihood will be more flattering than another. The width and flange of the brim in combination with the height and shape of the crown are the primarily contributors to a straw hat's appearance and style. On the whole, wider straw hat brims are the norm and preferred, since a straw hat brim appears smaller than a felt hat brim of equal dimension; and additionally, the wider brim offers enhanced protection from the sun's rays.
Most straw-hat crowns are pre-shaped in the factory eliminating the process of hand creasing. Today the hatter focuses on fitting the face of each individual by carefully selecting those shapes most flattering to his patron.
Of course, there are inexpensive mass produced imitations of the genuine Panama straw. However, many of these crack; others do not breathe. In contrast, the genuine Panama is light and airy, and it lasts a lifetime. Each is hand woven and therefore is one of a kind.
Prices range from a few dollars for the coarser hats to over $1,000 for the rarest, the superfinos of Montecristi.
Quality is determined by the fineness and regularity of the weave as well as the consistency of color. But always remember this: A genuine Panama hat is made only in Ecuador.
After some time away from the fashion scene, Panama hats are now coming back with a vengeance, and there's no better way to tell the world that you're a powerful man who recognizes the importance of image, than by choosing a panama dress hat that suits you.
Today, many straw hats are offered in a variety of trimmings and band sizes, and many bands are conveniently interchangeable.