Missoni, Elie Saab, Jacquemas and Daniela Gregis have all featured them this season and with no sign of the summer heat wave letting up, there's never been a better time to dust off a straw hat. We've taken a look into the Selvedge archive to find out a bit about the straw hat's history.
A century ago, the south west of France had a booming straw hat industry. Historically, these stitched straw braid hats were worn in rural areas and were designed to shield the face and eyes. Lightweight straw hats were popular during the summers of the 1820s.
The boater hat was designed in the 1880s for sporting activities but soon became fashionable for men and women alike, as depicted in the Renoir painting Le Déjeuner des Canotiers (1881). Its popularity grew during the 20th century when it was seen in films starring Fred Astaire or Maurice Chevalier. In 1910, Coco Chanel designed her first boater and the humble hat remained iconic for half a century.
Straw-hat making was seasonal and the industry a rural one. The process had many steps and was dependent on the skills of local peasants. The hats were not woven but were made by sewing together lengths of plaited straw in a spiral from crown to brim. Various shapes where created by altering stitching techniques before blocking and steaming. During the summer – the peak agricultural season – the hat factories would close but in winter, when farming activity was slow, farmers would return to plaiting and hat making to supplement their family income.
This is an extract from Anne Laure Camilleri's article in the Coastal issue of Selvedge.