United States Boys' Hat Styles: Sailor Hat--Material

Figure 1.--This CDV portrait is unidentified, but the voy's clothing suggests it was taken in the 1880s. The CDV was fairly rate in America by the 1890s. The name Bammering (unclear) was writen on the back along with the notation that the boy was 7 years old. His wide brimmed sailor hat was almost surely made from straw (you can see the characteristic straw eidges in the hat), probably in Ecuador. Note the flat crown and wide streamer. The streamer may have been added after import.

It is not always to tell the material used for hats from available photographs, mostly portraits. As best we can tell, they were primarily made from straw. As far as we can tell, high quality straw hats in America were a mid-19th century development. American trade with South America was fairly limited unti the mid-19th century. This was in part because both the United States and the Latin American countries had economies largely based on agriculture and raw materials. This only changed with the industrial expansion of the United States in the mid-19th century. Concerning straw hats, the discovery of gold in California resulted in large numbers of Americans rushing off to Califonia (1848). California was not an easy place to reach in 1848. As there were no road, rail or riverine connections from the East coast, the fastest routes were by sea--either sailing around Cape Horn or a sea and land route accross the Istmus of Panama. There the '49ers were exposed to the straw hats made in Ecuador--an industry dating to the pre-Inca period. As the Panama Canal did not yet exist, Ecuadorian hats were shipped to Panama and then marketed there which is why they became known as Panama hats. The low-cost hats, some with wide brims became popular with the miners who of course also took a liking to Levi Straus overalls. Gradually the popularity spread east. This was also promoted by the display at the World's Fair in Paris (1855). Here more fashionable hats were displayed and ladies seized upon the possibilities. At the same time, the sailor style for boys was developing. And thus various styles of sailor hat became popular, includung the wide brimmed hat. Thus many of the boys sailor hats seen in the late-19th and early-20th century were straw hats imported from Ecuador.


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Created: 5:10 AM 10/5/2009
Last updated: 5:10 AM 10/5/2009