The Origins of the Boater Hat

Boater hats are some of the most characteristic accessories out there, flaunting an ‘old money’ feel. While this representation of the style might not be entirely sensical in the modern context, this constructed image around the boater hat is unsurprising in the context of its history.

The boater hat, a straw hat very popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, saw various different niches over time, some of which can be witnessed to this very day. Here are some fascinating facts about the origin of the boater hat:

  1. Boater hats were originally said to be worn by both the working and middle classes during the summer months
  2. Soon, boater hats became popular amongst the elite, becoming a symbol of class and wealth in Britain and France
  3. Boater hats were adopted as traditional English school uniforms post-WWII, and remain in some institutions to this day

Ready to learn more about this traditional style? Let’s get to it:

Boater Hats
Boater Hat – Luiza Nalimova@123rf.com

1. Boater hats were originally said to be worn by both the working and middle classes during the summer months

The early 19th century likely marks the first instance of wide popularity for the boater hat, though in a different context than we might be familiar with. Rather than being largely associated with any one social class or group of people, the boater hat was worn by both the working and middle classes during the summer months. It’s clear why this was; this straw hat offered great protection against the sun while also featuring a lightweight feel and a breathable material.

2. Soon, boater hats became popular amongst the elite, becoming a symbol of class and wealth in Britain and France

As time passed, the boater hat was adopted by the upper class in exclusive sporting events like the Royal Ascot and, you guessed it, boating events! It wasn’t long before the hat itself became a symbol of the British and French elite. Most popular amongst men, this style continued to be a staple in high-class events, likely to be worn by all of the men present. You can still purchase examples of hand made boater hats on Amazon.

Continuing to rise in popularity, the now social implication tied with this simple straw hat led to the next large chapter of its history.

3. Boater hats were adopted as traditional English school uniforms post-WWII, and remain in some institutions to this day

These hats then began to be used by traditional British school uniforms. While it cannot be said for certain what the reason behind this decision was, it likely is related to the image these institutions were looking to portray – high-class education for high-class children and families who were part of that societal niche. Read more about this tradition in this article.

girl wearing boater hat

It’s no wonder that the use of these hats for school children led to a decline in the style’s overall popularity; now, the association of the hat had ironically transferred from a symbol of the elite to a symbol of young English schoolboys.

The uses and overall ‘fame’ of the hat continued to ebb and flow over the next few years. Today, this style can still be found worn by some in the hot summer months, as well as in traditional ceremonies of educational British institutions.

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