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Hats in History: Picnics–Straw Baskets & Hats

Submitted by on May 1, 2019 – 10:25 am

While taking a stroll down our national memory lane through the Library of Congress’ photo catalog, it was amazing to look at summer through the lens of a century ago.

Men and women wear hats and layers at a summer picnic.

Hats known as boaters or skimmers were all the rage in 1908 when this photograph was taken at a summer picnic for the Carnegie Corporation. As there was little relief from the heat, these straw hats were critical for helping to keep the sun off.

They might not have had global warming to contend with yet, but it was hot. Just look at this picture from Carnegie’s 2nd Annual Company Picnic in 1908. It is the middle of summer, on a day meant for fun, and the men are wearing suits while the ladies are wearing several layers of /under their dresses. And it wasn’t as if they could all go inside to cool off. Air conditioning hadn’t been invented yet!

Perhaps because they couldn’t go inside to cool off, hats took on an even greater importance for providing both shade and making a fashion statement.

This is a straw boater, which is still a surprisingly popular selling hat today.

For men, this was an era dominated by the boater, also known as the skimmer. This was a flat-topped straw hat that was light weight with a goodly sized brim. These days those hats are difficult for many people to pull off without looking anachronistic. However, back then, a boater and a seersucker suit made any man the toast of the town. And you had better start off the day with your suit coat on, even if it was 95 degrees and humid.

Today, the boater sells surprisingly well. Admittedly, most of the people looking for them want them for theater and film projects, but still every now and again we come across a few men who can really rock a boater in style. Are you one of them? Please write in and tell us about your favorite summer hat.

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