Hats off to the boater: artifact spotlight # 6

I am always inspired by the magnificent hats the women wear on “Downton Abbey” (an outstanding Edwardian period drama currently in its second series).  Last night’s episode was no exception, but it did get me thinking about how men also wear a lot of hats on the show but I just don’t notice them as much.

The craftsmanship in hats for men is often remarkable, but completely overshadowed when compared to the dramatic and ornate hats for women.  So, in the spirit of equality, I dedicate this Artifact Spotlight to a man’s boater hat in the museum collection.
The boater hat is made of stiff straw and is characterized by its wide, flat crown and brim.  It was most popular from the late 1890s through the 1930s.
Historically, it was worn by men in the summer for a variety of outdoor activities but was especially popular for rowing and sailing, hence the name “boater.”The hat was considered a dressy option for warm afternoons as a bowler hat alternative and worn with a wide solid or striped grosgrain ribbon band. Although not as flashy as a woman’s formal hat, the boater is arguably a respectable and handsome hat in its own right. Its simplicity and understated elegance made the boater a fashionable choice for men in both Europe and the United States.  It even became a signature accessory for French film star, Maurice Chevalier.

This particular boater was made by the Ecuadorian Panama Hat Company in New York for Marshall Field and Company probably around 1922.  The hat features a beautiful hand woven spiral pattern and the interior has a soft leather sweatband and satin lining.

It is in excellent condition and has long been a part of the museum’s permanent collection.  This hat will be showcased in the spring in a special temporary hat exhibit in spring 2012.

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