As the weather grows warmer here in the South, my thoughts turn to summer headgear. The Panama hat may be a classic, and more prevalent, choice for protection from the sun's rays; however, I prefer the straw boater.
The boater, also known as a skimmer, is a stiff straw hat with a flat crown and brim. It is typically adorned with a colored ribbon tied around the crown. The boater has its origins in the sennit straw hats issued to midshipmen in the Royal Navy near the end of the nineteenth century. Those sailors would also have worn short blue jackets with brass buttons; therefore, the boater is quite properly worn alongside a blue blazer with gilt buttons. Because the boater is a fairly formal hat, it may also be correctly worn with a lounge suit.
The boater saw its heyday in the early twentieth century when it became a popular form of warm weather headware for the upper middle class. It was also popularized on the silver screen by the likes of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. A surprising number of these vintage boaters remain available on the market today. The quality of these original boaters seems, for the most part, to exceed that of the few that are still produced today. In preparation for the hot weather ahead, I recently ordered my own vintage Italian boater from an online purveyor of antiquarian fashions. I will post pictures when the hat arrives.