Boater hats, sometimes called bashers, sennits, sailors or skimmers, are unique kinds of straw hats. These items of headgear have a brim and rigid flat top. Typically, a piece of cloth or broad ribbon is wrapped around the hat’s crown. With Italian origins, these hats were the preferred headgear of gondoliers, the people who drive the flat bottomed, lengthy boats used in Venice. Most gondoliers wore their boaters with long colored ribbons, or ‘doppio nastros’, in navy or red. Lots of modern gondoliers still wear this uniform.
The boater hat became most popular during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Over this period, it was often used as a normal summer hat, and for sailing and boating pursuits, in line with its’ name. These hats have been used in a range of other contexts as well. For instance, FBI officers, such as Melvin Purvis, were commonly photographed wearing them, as they were adopted — unofficially — as part of the uniform for these officers before the Second World War. This was portrayed in classic films like ‘The Sting’, among others.
During the 1930’s, boater hats found their way into mainstream culture in America. On many occasions, leading yachters were seen proudly wearing them. Over half of all boaters were sold to yachting enthusiasts during this era. It didn’t take long for these hats to transition from the nautical industry to more common, everyday use. In spite of their popularity at informal events though, they were still regarded as unsuitable clothing for formal gatherings. Notwithstanding, they could be combined nicely with a suit or blazer for banquets and other social events.
Since the early 1950’s, boater hats have been worn by Princeton University band members too. This is depicted in many places, like the October 1955 edition of Sports Illustrated. Other famous people who have worn this hat are showman like Harold Lloyd and Maurice Chevalier, along with John Jacob Astor IV, the investor who died when the Titanic sank. Businesswoman Coco Chanel also enjoyed wearing boater hats, and it was thanks to her that this headgear remained in vogue with women during the early 1900’s.
Although the boater hat is not part of mainstream fashion any more, it has not been consigned to history. It is still worn every now and again by rowers and sailors. As its’ name indicates, the boater hat will be forever linked to water adventures.