Fabrics and Material Used in Boys' Clothing: Straw


Figure 1.--This Baltimore boy we think in the 1870s holds his straw hat. Notice the course weave. We are not sure to what extent these hats were supplied by Ecuadorian manufacturers rather than domestic companies.

Straw is dried grass. There are many different grasses with a wide range of characteristics. There are different uses for straw in the manufacture of clothing. The best known modern usage is in the making of hats. For HBC's study of boys' fashion, straw hats are especially important. Several boys' hats were made from straw, including the rounded crown hat, the sailor hat, and the boater. These are all 19th century styles, although the boater has survived into the 20th century to a limited degree. A substantial portion of the demand for straw hats was supplied from Eduador and incorrectly called Panama hats. The straw hat industry in Panama predated the Inca and Spanish by milenia. Straw can also be used for insulation (stuffing) by low-income people as it has many disadvantages. Another usage dating from pre-history was in the manufacture of sandals. This also survived to the 19th century. The style of grass used depended on the use intended. Buntal is one of the best known grass used in the manufscture of straw hats. This is a different plant than the hemp used in the ropes and mats manufacturing process. Buntal is a high quality material with a natural golden color and durable for a grass. The grass used by Ecuadorian Indians is Carludovicia palamata.

Botony

Straw is dried grass. There are many different grasses with a wide range of characteristics. The type of grass used depended on the use intended. Buntal is one of the best known grass used in the manufscture of straw hats. This is a different plant than the hemp used in the ropes and mats manufacturing process. Buntal is a high quality material with a natural golden color and durable for a grass. The grass used by Ecuadorian Indians is Carludovicia palamata.

Uses

There are different uses for straw in the manufacture of clothing. The best known modern usage is in the making of hats. For HBC's study of boys' fashion, straw hats are especially important. Straw can also be used for insulation (stuffing) by low-income people as it has many disadvantages. Another usage dating from pre-history was in the manufacture of sandals. This also survived to the 19th century.

Panama Hats

A substantial portion of the demand for straw hats was supplied from Eduador and incorrectly called Panama hats. The straw hat industry in Panama predated the Inca and Spanish by milenia. It is not always to tell the material used for hats from available photographs, mostly portraits. As best we can tell, sailor hats in America and other countries 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 until 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 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 knoen 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.

Boys' Hats

Several boys' hats were made from straw, including the rounded crown hat, the sailor hat, and the boater. These are all 19th century styles, although the boater has survived into the 20th century to a limited degree.







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Created: 6:15 AM 10/5/2009
Last updated: 6:15 AM 10/5/2009