Straw Hat & The History Behind It


A major style statement which earlier used to be a summertime staple.

For completing our seaside look or any summer outfit, we always reach for a straw hat and it is very much instinctive to us. The straw hat is one of the most obvious accessories, next to sunglasses, which protect us from the harmful UV rays of the sun. But from where it has been originated, this is not clear. The straw hat is ubiquitous and when an item is of such kind, it becomes virtually impossible to determine its origination or to pinpoint the first documentation of its existence.

The straw hat does have some fun facts about it: it was considered to be a kind of head covering piece which protects from the inclement weather. Also, this is the first ever article of clothing that humans wore.

Straw hats are believed to be worn in the 15th century (after the Middle Ages) in Europe and Asia and can be distinguished with its woven which is done using a different kind of straws or similar texture fibers like braided hemp, raffia, and jute. Rice paddy workers used to wear cone-shaped hats in order to shield themselves from the harsh rays of the sun and heavy rains in Asia, and in different countries like Japan, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. The straw hat or nón lá in Vietnam was originated when the goddess come down from the sky to protect people from the torrential downpour and she was wearing this enormous hat which was made up of the four large leaves held together by bamboo sticks.

19th Century, Cultivation of rice in Japan

An illuminated French Gothic manuscript was created from 1412 to 1416 and is the most famous surviving examples of Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. It was considered that most men wear short-brim straw hats. But by 1700s, straw bonnets were worn by French Women and by 1800s, there was depiction in European paintings of the women giving poses in ribbon-adorned floppy straw hats with an upturned brim. In 1887, Vincent Van Gogh in a self-portrait immortalized his straw hat. In 1865, John B. Stetson invented the first cowboy hat that was made of straw and till today the silhouette basically remains unchanged.

Gustave Leonard de Jonghe Painting

Everyone has started embracing straw hats by the late 1800s and early 1900s. But this accessory was catapulted to fame when it was worn by President Theodore Roosevelt during his visit to the Panama Canal in 1906. At a construction site, he was photographed in his pale suit and Panama hat. This summertime staple was light in weight and it exuded in both casual and polish equal parts. And by 1944, it was the number one export of Ecuador.

In 1890, Santa Monica Calif, Picture of Vacationers

A decade later, wider brim styles skyrocketed to popularity but they were already famous as a beach essential. In the ‘30s, for a seaside portrait, the matching straw hats were coordinated by Frances Dee, Adrienne Ames, and Judith Wood. Then in 1955, the newcomer Brigitte Bardot worn the straw hat with an exaggerated brim and it got famous when she got her headshot taken. In 1970, on the sets of dramedy Le Genou de Claire, a floppy shorter-brim version was worn by French actress Laurence de Monaghan along with her two-piece.

Brigitte Bardot, 1955

Laurence de Monaghan on the set of Le Genou de Claire movie

In the followed years, there were various forms and shapes in which the straw hat appeared. Of Course, Fashion does have a say in the matter. In 1965, a taller style with a frayed edge was considered to be the first runway instances of a straw hat. At the helm of French fashion house Chloé, in 1976, a model wearing a ribbon-adorned boater hat along with a white Grecian-style halter dress was sent out by Karl Lagerfeld.

Outsized silhouettes were already in if we move forward in the ‘90s.  In 1991, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac came up with the over-the-top style and it was that big that it became hard to judge where the hat ended and the shirt began. The very next years, in 1992 collections Dior Spring/Summer, the short-brim straw fedoras and voluminous floppy hats (the former for ready-to-wear and the latter, for couture) were shown by the designer Gianfranco Ferre.Dior Spring/Summer 1992: Ready-to-Wear (L) and Couture (R)

Anna Sui Spring/Summer 2007

And the designers were not able to resist themselves by giving a high-fashion costume spin to straw hats. Designer Anna Sui, during her Spring/Summer 2007 collection reimagined these hats as pirate hats. On the other hand, in Chinese-inspired Chanel show which was held in Shanghai in 2009, designer Karl Lagerfeld embroidered straw conical hats.

In the current season, we have seen a burst of renewed interest in straw hats as for Spring/Summer 2018, there was various kind of iterations done by designers. A whimsical bow-shaped headpiece was designed by Delpozo, A comical degree was given to the crown b A.W.A.K.E, straw safari-esque styles were shown by Loewe, and the statement hats with extra-long brim were delivered by Missoni, Giorgio Armani, and Jacquemus. And since then, these all have gone viral.

Spring/Summer 2018 top row: Delpozo, A.W.A.K.E., Loewe; bottom row: Giorgio Armani, Missoni, Jacquemus

Gucci Spring/Summer 2018

Straw Hats certainly seems to be the most democratic fashion items. It has continued to be an incredible and rare item which can transcend age, class, gender, and fashion genres. This could be due to its utilitarian roots or its low-maintenance nature.