Boater Hats at a Baseball game - Walter Johnson & Calvin Coolidge

The Summer Hat Guide

Hats have been worn for centuries for a variety of reasons including protection from the elements, accessorizing an outfit, uniformity in war and of course religious reasons.

The History of Hats

Hats have undergone a significant change from when they were first worn. Originally simple skull caps called the Pileus, hats depicted as far back as the antiquities were worn for religious reasons and as a status symbol.

One of the first documented hats is seen in a painting in Thebes tomb showing a man wearing a straw hat. While this is probably not the first hat worn, it illustrates the importance of headwear throughout the ages. The pileus hat we mentioned before was one of the first we know about and of course, the Phrygian cap worn by Greek and Roman slaves when freed are equally historic. While most hats today have some form of brim, these hats did not. The very first hat with a brim too comes from Greece and was called the Petasos. Despite women wearing a variety of headdress such as kerchiefs and veils, men also donned hats as a symbol of their position and in an effort to accessorize their personal style.

St. Clement, the patron saint of felt hatmakers unknowingly started a trend that would solidify his spot in history. It was only when he went to pack his sandals with flax fibers, that he came across wool felt and decided to make a hat with it.

Then, years later in the middle ages, hats became a symbol to mark ones social status. Being Jewish, one of my favorite historical accounts was the development of the Judenhat, today known as a kippah. Even though Jews still wear a skullcap on their head, and while today it’s for religious purposes, initially it was a mark of anti-semitism. In 1215, the Fourth Council of the Lateran introduced the Judenhat as a way to identify all who were Jewish. It’s quite remarkable that we still wear hats today considering the history, especially since you certainly wouldn’t see a Jewish man wearing an armband as was required during the Holocaust.

It was due to the popularity of organized sports that men then began to wear hats as a symbol of style in addition to protection from the sun and elements. The tradition of wearing hats to horse races and polo matches began at the Royal Ascot in Britain which required under its dress code that all guests within the royal enclosure must wear a hat. Similar dress codes were adopted by other events and it made its way to America with the Kentucky Derby.

Vintage Ad

Vintage Ad

Once the fashion of wearing hats began to spread globally, baseball teams began issuing brimmed caps to their players to help increase vision under the sun. Since the hats were branded for the team, fans began to adopt the caps in an effort to showcase their loyalty and fondness for their particular player or team. With baseball being a summer sport, the fad grew and pretty soon hats were becoming more flamboyant and hats of the past made their way back onto the heads of Americans.

When it comes to the summer months, hats worn by men can offer incredible protection from the heat and sun, but also offer a convenience of being able to go out of the house without having every strand of hair in place.

While these hats aren’t appropriate for the office, the ones we’ll focus on today are ideal for lounging at the beach, walking along the boardwalk, or simply galavanting through town on a warm summer day.

Anatomy of a hat

While some hats have features not commonly seen, most hats consist of the following four parts.

Fred Astaire Boater

Fred Astaire Boater

The Crown

The crown is a large portion of the hat and is responsible for covering and protecting the top of the head. Often with summer hats, it’s the lightest and most breathable part of the hat.

The Band

Also called a sweatband, the band is a ribbon or band that is attached to the bottom of the crown and helps soak up moisture from the brow of the wearer to prevent it from dripping down his face or burning his eyes. It is often adjustable with a lanyard or cord that can be pulled to tighten it. Another name often used is the hatband or puggaree which should not be confused with the sweatband as they surround the circumference of the outside of the hat as opposed to the inside.

The Bill

Also called the peak or visor, the bill is a hard piece of the hat that protrudes from the front of the crown in an effort to protect the eyes from sun and rain.

The Brim

Not to be confused with the bill, the brim serves the same purpose, but instead of jutting out at the front, it protrudes all the way around the head.

How to size a hat

For most hats, the best way to determine your hat size is to measure your head. While the measurements in centimeters equals the size, the English, French and American sizing systems are more complicated to understand. Please refer to the table below. Measure the circumference of your head with a tailors measuring tape by wrapping it around your skull approximately 1/2 an inch above the ears or in the middle of your forehead.  Unfortunately, many hats today come in sizes of S,M,L… or even “one size fits all”. Most of the time, these hats won’t fit you well, and bear in mind that hats that are too small will cause headaches. Of course, when you are in a hat store, you can try on different hats, but even then you should start with having your had measured.

USA SizesEnglish sizesFrench SizesMetric SizesModern SizesInchesCentimetersNearest 64thsNearest 8ths
6 1/46 1/32-Nov50child19.51885019 33/6420 1/3
6 3/86 1/4251child19.91155119 29/3219 7/8
6 1/26 3/82 1/252xsmall20.30425220 11/3220 2/3
7 2/36 1/2353xsmall20.69695320 45/6420 3/4
6 3/47 2/33 1/254small21.08965421 5/6421 1/8
8 1/36 3/4455small21.48235521 31/6422 1/3
78 1/34 1/256medium21.8755621 7/823 1/3
7 1/37557medium22.26775722 17/6422 1/4
7 1/47 1/35 1/258large22.66045822 21/3223 2/3
7 3/87 1/4659large23.05315923 3/6423
7 1/27 3/86 1/260XL23.44586023 29/6423 1/2
8 2/37 1/2761XL23.83856123 27/3223 7/8
7 3/48 2/37 1/262XXL24.23126224 15/6424 1/4
7 7/87 3/4863XXL24.62396324 5/824 5/8
87 7/88 1/264XXXL25.01666425 1/6425

Types of summer hats

There are various types of hats worn by men today and throughout history that were appropriately adopted for use in the summer. Here are a few of the more popular ones today.

Panama Hats

Panama hats are probably the number one summer hats. Despite their name, they originate in Ecuador and they are woven from the fibers of paja toquilla palm tree leaves. For more details about the panama hat, read this article and watch the 3 part series below. Always bear in mind that a Panama hat can basically have any shape you want, though most come in classic Fedora shapes of variations of it.

Straw Hats

Unlike Panama hats, straw hats are actually woven of straw and they were really popular 100 years ago. Just like with the Panama hat, is comes in various shapes, though the most popular shape is probably the boater hat.

Boater Hat

The boater is one hat that many people love but many others hate. If you see old photographs from the turn of the century up until the 1920’s, you will see almost all men on the streets wear a boater hat, no matter if they are in Rio de Janeiro, Paris, New York or Berlin. Repopularized recently in the hit blockbuster The Great Gatsby, it originally became popular as a formal summer hat in the latter part of the 19th century. Usually made of stiff sennit straw, the boater has a hard flat crown and brim that surrounds the entire circumference of the hat. Often it can be seen with a solid or striped grosgrain ribbon that surrounds the crown. Despite it initially being marketed for casual use, it ended up being widely adopted as a semi-formal hat with school uniforms and also as an unofficial part of the FBI’s uniform in the pre-war years. Today, most people associate the boater with barbershop quartet and while it’s not worn regularly any longer, it can still be seen at historical fairs, vintage inspired summer lawn parties or the Princeton University’s band.

Bucket Hat

Bucket Hat

Bucket Hat

Traditionally worn by fishermen, the bucket hat is a soft hat often made using denim or canvas with a wide and downwards sloping brim designed to shield your eyes from the sun. Often the hat will have metal eyelets on the sides to allow airflow and prevent the brow from sweating.

Flat Cap

The flat cap is a soft, round hat with a fairly small bill in the front. Often misconstrued with the Ascot cap which is a hard round hat with a similar appearance.

Baseball Cap

The baseball cap was designed in 1860 by the Brooklyn Excelsiors. Today these hats are typically made of cotton and of course feature a rounded top and stiff bill that protrudes from the front. To date, it’s one of the most casual hats and often worn by men during sporting events or while relaxing. It is a hat that is only appropriate for wear outdoors and should be taken off when in the company of others or when indoors. It is not intended to be worn in any formal or semi-formal environment, and short of working hard labor or being part of a uniform, should never be worn while at work.

While it’s intended to be worn with the bill facing front, in recent years it’s become popular to wear backwards or even to one side. It is important to note however, that the odd time a baseball cap is worn by a true gentleman, it should always face forward with the hair tucked neatly inside.

Vintage Inspired Donegal Tweed Baseball cap by Japanese brand Deluxe

Vintage Inspired Donegal Tweed Baseball cap by Japanese brand Deluxe

Despite there being no set rule of how to wear it, many agree that in order to properly wear it, one must slide it on from the front of the brow in order to ensure that hair doesn’t fall over the brow, covering the face or eyes.

While there are many types of baseball caps, including mesh trucker hats, I highly recommend focusing on a simplistic design with one logo at the most. Even though many young men wear it with a straight bill, the cap is intended to have a slightly curved rim. Sadly, it has become the most popular hat on the globe, and as such the quality of most hats is rather bad, so make sure your brim is not lined with cardboard etc.

Conclusion

As an introduction to summer hats, this article provides basic information about different styles of hats. More detailed article about individual hats will follow.

What is your favorite summer hat?

13 replies
  1. Jay Thorington
    Jay Thorington says:

    I have a collection of “historical” hats. In summer my favorite is the Panama style. Cooler weather the newsboy type. I abhor modern baseball caps and will not wear them.

  2. Kirk
    Kirk says:

    I prefer boater hats. Although I don’t see them worn commonly, I wonder why since they seem to sell quite well on sites such as ebay.

  3. Park Jacob Weatherby
    Park Jacob Weatherby says:

    Bravo!
    Delightfully informative article, as a hat lover myself I certainly enjoy this additional insight on “summer hats” I have several vintage hats in my collection (e.g. homburg, fedora, as well boaters, straw and panama hats). Just one simple inquiry are straw hats and panama hats best suited for formal or causal attire?

    Park

  4. Malcolm
    Malcolm says:

    I agree with Jay. But for good casual wear, that is very durable may I suggest you look at a Tilly hat. http://www.tilley.com/canada_en/shop_men?cat=44,,, My Tilly goes on walks locally, we’ve done Egypt, Spain, Portugal Canadian Rockies, Caribbean Islands together and afterward just through it in the washing machine and voila, ready for another adventure.

  5. Matthew
    Matthew says:

    Thank you for this informative article. What hats are appropriate for a (conservative) summer business attire?

  6. LP Beron
    LP Beron says:

    Thank you Sven, very handy.

    Can anyone recommend a good source for replacement/accessory ribbons for boaters? Usually, they come with either black or “Guards Red and Blue”, but I’d like to be able to get school colors, etc.

  7. Stalban
    Stalban says:

    This is very informative.

    In spite of my love for the look and a desire to wear a Panama hat, I find that with my size 7 1/2, it always appears to me that the hat is so wide it resembles a sombrero!

  8. Thomas R. Leslie
    Thomas R. Leslie says:

    Wore Panama hat today. Grade 23, exceptionally fine torquilla straw. Always get compliments, and very comfortable to wear.

  9. David Kalil
    David Kalil says:

    Great article Sven, hope to see more on the Panama Fedoras. Now if only I could find a vintage Borsalino Panama from the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s!

  10. Howard Browne
    Howard Browne says:

    I resent the common (in all sense of the word) use of “Baseball Cap” to describe what is universal headgear today.

    A baseball cap is made of felt, comes in sizes and has an unbroken band. What is mistaken for one is a tractor cap. It is made of various materials including mesh, and has an “idiot loop for sizing.

    John Deere, like Levi Strauss, has a lot to answer for.

  11. Falkon Nightsdale
    Falkon Nightsdale says:

    I prefer hat’s with wider brim, in which I’m not looking like egg-headed monster (that’s how I look in fedora).
    And partly due to patriotic reasons, partly because of availiability, I buy hats only from Tonak.

  12. Luke Brown
    Luke Brown says:

    Very informative, but missing one key hat for some of us. I know, this might sound crazy, but the majority of people where I live where cowboy hats. I love the shape, feel, and style of the cowboy hat, but it can really only be pulled off around here where we are actually cowboys and not actors or wearing a costume. It’s good to find one with small vents in the top to keep cool. Black felt is always great for the winter. You don’t even need anything to cover your ears because your head stays so warm.

    Great guide though, I’ve definitely always been a fan of the more subtle straw fedora in areas where my cowboy hat gets me a LOT of strange looks…

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