Monday, August 22, 2016

From Fashion to Fad (and back again): A Skim-med History of the Straw Boater Hat

By Matt Deckard
I've never been too keen on the boater. Yes, it's made of straw and cool for summer and came out long before the soft roll up panama, but it's like wearing an inedible cracker on your head.  Although now often viewed as a hat that is functionally terrible and aesthetically comical, the boater became the standard summer hat for millions of men around the world in the early 1900s.  It became a staple item in the respectable businessman’s hat wardrobe; in essence, it was, for a time, the summer version of the bowler.

Originally, in the mid 1800s, the boater (Also known as a “Sennet” or “Straw”) used to be a seafaring hat that was issued to and worn by British Royal Navy sailors during the summer months. These early boaters were softer than the version we see on the heads of Harold Lloyd and Fred Astaire in the 1920s and 30s because they were made to yield somewhat to the forces of wind and water encountered by a seaman on a long voyage. In its early days keeping the brim flat wasn’t much of a concern, so you'd see sailor after sailor sporting straw hats with warped brims.  Many Italian gondoliers still sport versions similar to the original ones worn by British sailors.

As time went by, the boater went from being an item of military issue, to a fashionable and somewhat formal summer accessory. This is reflected in Manners for Men (1897), in which Mrs. C. E. Humphry informed her dapper readers that “For a morning walk in the Park in summer the straw hat, or low hat and tweed suit, are as correct as the black coat and silk hat.” Around the same time, English schools and colleges made the boater into a uniform requirement.

Clearly, the boater had successfully made the leap from respectable British military issue headgear to the smart but cumbersome lacquered and pressed straw halos you ended up seeing on American luminaries like David Wark Griffith and Calvin Coolidge, and on businessmen around the Western world.

Unsurprisingly, these hats never had the staying power of more comfortable summer hats. Their impractical and comical nature was played up by young students ‘skimming’ them under buses to pass the time (if they were lucky the passing bus would eat the hat); in the 1920s, boaters were turned into a faddish novelty, as college kids began pairing them with raccoon coats and pennants at pep rallies.  The farcical side (and thus the end of the more formal application) of this headwear was echoed in the appropriation of the boater by Vaudevillians and carnival barkers. Soon enough, you'd see foam versions worn with red, white, and blue ribbons issued to crowds at political rallies. The seriousness of the hat had clearly left.

If it had had more functionality than fashionability, perhaps the boater would have had as long a run as the Panama hats that you can still find at your local department store today.  Unlike its winter felt counterparts, the bowler, which originated as a hard gamekeeper’s hat that can be molded to a cranium to perfection with steam, or the soft fedora that's an offshoot of the comfortable slouch hat worn in the field of battle, the boater requires that your head be the shape of the hat or you’re in for an ill fit. It is stiff and has no give. If you try to alter the shape to fit your head, you tend to warp the brim.


And yet, now I like it. I like it because nobody else is wearing it.  It stands out on the street corner. Although shunned by well heeled men decades ago and thus best worn with a slightly irreverent air, I find it adds an unexpected jauntiness to a well-tailored suit.  In 2016, it can give your look a panache that will certainly make you stand out amongst a sea of businessmen on a crowded summer street.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

DESIGNING STETSON

I came to Texas with a mission, to redefine the something I love, to figure out how to pass that passion to everyone.

From the outset, inspired by the past and encouraged by my friends, I was able to bring back brand defining styles using the original machinery with the original hat making techniques, many dating back to the 1920s and before.

With my own archives, I applied elements that I loved, to redefine iconic styles to suit the fashion of the modern day. I installed in the line, pieces that could fight the trend of fast fashion, to be that item you could put on your head knowing it added rather than took away.

I reintroduced a line of women’s hats and watched as more and more styles populated the lineup, and I was proud that the factory could visibly see a change happening when the floor that was covered in racks of cowboy hats day in day out, turned into a sea of red as Marvel’s Agent Carter hit the airwaves, atop her head was a Stetson.

For the 150th anniversary of the company, I designed a roundtable of the finest quality pieces that could be produced, knowing that these were the same steps that over a century of Stetson master hatters used to make the pronounced, yet subtly elegant look of America’s hat.

I willed into being and negotiated the return of the Iconic Manhattan Neon Stetson sign that was, and now again is, above JJ Hatcenter on Fifth Avenue.

Exotic locations, extraordinary situations, one day I was discussing the toquila palm crop with the Ecuadorian consulate while driving to work, the next, I was in Manhattan being tracked down by an Italian man wanting to sweep me up in his SUV, just so I could explain the fall lineup. Videoconferences with Germany at 2am, all-nighters to clean up my Japanese business etiquette because the clients are arriving early… 

I’ve made new friends here, I’ve had great adventures, and Big Tex Under the shade of his Cowboy hat has looked down at me and smiled. I went to the rodeos, to the barn dances and I got to know the kings and queens of the outlaw country scene.

I came to Texas with a mission, to redefine the something I love, to figure out how to pass that passion to everyone.

I feel that’s what I’ve done.


Of all the endeavors I’ve set my sights on, this one, being the Creative Director of Stetson’s dress hats was one of the most fulfilling. Now, I need to move to my next adventure, and that begins by steeping myself in my hometown of Los Angeles. Reconnecting with my closest, and taking in that warmth of what is my city.

Yours in hatting,


Joseph C. Brandstetter


Monday, February 23, 2015

The February 2015 post about ties and more.

I’ve really been exercising my reading habit more than my writing habit lately.

Here we go again.

Kazuki Kodaka has done a few things I wish I could do when it comes to this new world of fashion where we are continuing in the footsteps of the classic tailors that knew and believed in durability and making clothing that was formed around the anatomy of the wearer, and not founded on the fast food idea of fashion that has been in charge for the last few decades. I’ve been admiring his work from the US for a few years now and have to say… it’s excellent when it comes to getting it right. I’ve always been a fan of the belted back suit that accentuates the waist of the wearer. I’ve worked with a local tailor to get this look right. But when it comes to cloth used and that classic flattering drape from the days of old, Adjustable Costume has nailed it. I’ve recently become the proud owner of a pair of the most complicated suspenders a man could ever own, but being a suspender wearer, they are perhaps the most comfortable I will ever own… especially since they are engineered for the high waisted trouser I wear.

I’ll post more pics in following posts. But for now I wanted to showcase the necktie. It’s a repro of a classic early 1930s unlined and folded raw piece of silk. Something that would just get caught in the wind and flutter about. Nothing like the modern day overly heavy ties you find at your local high end department store. It’s something that is built around the romance. There is a  luxury in the simplicity.


On the left is the Adjustable Costume Octopus tie. On the right is an original 1930s brocade tie. My compliments go to Kazuki for getting it right when it comes to the details and the construction. 


McColgan for Hollywood

On another note; A fun acquisition on my part… A few years back I sold off a lot of my old wears, one of my prized pieces was an A-2 leather jacket that I’d wear on occasion. I did love that jacket yet circumstances required I part with it. In the hunt for a replacement, I thought I’d stick with my aesthetic of old school workwear that’s’ been trending as of late… and in that vein of though I needed something that was properly accurate to the uniform standards of the originals made in the 1930s and 40s.


The Steve McColgan clothing company has been historically accurate jackets and gear for decades. Whether it be for Saving Private Ryan, or Band of Brothers, he’s been the man on call when it comes to making it look right… because it is right. I would have nothing less. I’ve seen the works from the competition like Eastman Leather or Real McCoys, the competition for WWII Americana is growing, but there is nothing Like a classic made in the USA A-2 that’s just like those our flyboys wore in their planes during the war. Something that you’d find in a surplus store in the 50s if you were lucky. Anywho… the jacket is still in break in mode and I’ll be beating it up on a daily basis on the cooler days in the Stetson hat factory.