Straw Boaters: A long gone trend

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1925 Mallory Hat Company advertisement on a Classic Boater

Chapter 1: A trend

It is a 1920 summer and a scorching hot day in New York.

The sun is shining high above the sky. Oh, do you see a hat store? Why not fancy a boater?

Yes, that is right! Boater hats were very common during the 1920s. Boaters are rigid straw hats with flat tops and a wide brim. These hats were also known as ‘sailor’s straw hats’ ‘skimmers’, ‘barbershop straws’ but most commonly known as ‘boaters’.

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July 1921, sea of boaters in Times Square

Although the boater was an essential piece of fashion during the 1920s and 1930s, now it is only to be seen at certain private schools in Australia and the United Kingdom. It is also seen at the Henley Royal Regatta. As the 1950’s went by, some of the well known manufacturers started to stop the production of boaters. Such companies were: Stetson, Dobbs, Dunn & Co. and many more.

Chapter 2: Boaters in Schools

Boaters held a very important role in many different schools in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Although boaters are almost extinct in New Zealand and Australia, many schools in Britain wear boaters as part of their uniform.

Interesting difference can be seen at Harrow School. Their hats are not counted as ‘boaters’ as they wear their own special ‘Harrow Hat’, a modified boater with a lower flat top and a much wider brim.

             Left: Olney Headwear Co. Classic Boater, Right: Harrow School Hat

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A.E.Olney Factory in Luton, Bedfordshire producing Harrow hats & boaters. Circa 1952

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Harrow School Founder’s Day, Students in Harrow Hats. Circa 1953

Here are some old photos of school boaters in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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St Andrew’s College Students in Boaters Circa. 1930

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A Christ’s College senior with matching boater, Circa 1962

Chapter 3: Bogus Boaters

There are those such as me who really  boaters. The following shows the difference between ‘real boaters’ and ‘bogus’ boaters.

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Hills Hats Company, New Zealand Deluxe Boater

Hills Hats Company is one of the leading hat manufacturers in the world and I am proud to say I wear their Summer Panama but sadly they have failed with their boaters. Here are some reasons. The material itself is wrong. Boaters are supposed to be rigid hats made out of stiff straw but Hills Hats have used a straw which tends to bend easily, that they use on their Panamas. The flat top area (where the head goes) is too tall for its brim width and the band is too low as well.

Ebay & Amazon & Fashion Store ‘Boaters’

These boaters are retailed very cheaply compared to legitimate boaters. As with the Hills Hats boater the material and even the shape is wrong.

Chapter 4: Real Boaters & Where to buy?

Now there are only three known ‘real’ boater manufacturers in the world. The leading company would be Olney Headwear, with a 100 year long history and they have produced hats and boaters for famous faces and right until up to the present they have produced the majority of boaters in the United Kingdom.

Olney Headwear

Left & Right: Olney Headwear SM6 Guard Band Boater

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Above: Olney Headwear Black Ribbon Boater

In 2015, Olney Headwear produced a batch of Harrods Department Store boaters. If you ever go to the Harrods Department Store Food Halls, the staff are seen wearing these.

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Above: Olney Headwear, Harrods Department Store Boaters

Lock & Co. Hatters, London

The other would be the famous hatters in the UK, Lock & Co. Hatters in St. James Street of London is also another hat company with a long and proud history.

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Above: Lock & Co Hatters Boater made for Brook Brothers, Circa. 1940

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Above: Present Day Lock & Co Hatters Classic Boater

I believe Lock & Co used to produce the Harrods Department Store Special Boaters in the 1940s.

Gamble & Gunn, Portsea Island

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Above: Gamble & Gunn Black & White Stripe Boater

I found this hat company while searching for a nice boater. I have one like the above and the quality is superb!

Vintage Boaters on Ebay

Ebay is full of vintage boaters made by Lock & Co, Dobbs, Stetson and etc. Some go cheap so grab a deal!

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Operating Director of ArtifaxBooks!

I am very happy to say that I am now the new Operating Director of Artifaxbooks. This year the telegraph society has lost a very well respected and knowledgable historian, collector and writer, Mr Thomas M French.

ArtifaxBooks was first established 1990, offering telegraph collectors wide range of books and booklets by 1955 licensed Tom French, W1IMQ. He was a very knowledgable historian in the field of Telegraph Apparatus Company, McElroy keys and champion telegrapher, Ted McElroy and J-38 Military keys.

Now, ArtifaxBooks has been converted into an online museum containing photos of keys owned by Tom French for references for telegraph collectors, hams and etc. The opening of the new ArtifaxBooks will be in around the end of December, 2016.

I am extremely honoured to continue ArtifaxBooks.