Earlier this year Etiquetteer was reading Erik Larson's fascinating Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, when a sentence turned Etiquetteer's attention completely away from the story. "They found a city steaming with heat - 91 degrees on Tuesday, April 27, with four days yet to go before "Straw Hat Day," Saturday, May 1, when a man could at last break out his summer hats." Straw Hat Day?! Etiquetteer had never heard of such a thing. Was this really an annual, historical ritual for American gentlemen, or had Mr. Larson been hoodwinked by the Internet, which is always making up holidays like National Underwear Day?
Turns out Straw Hat Day was indeed an actual, annual occurrence, with a date selected locally for the gentlemen to retire their fedoras and homburgs for the season, substituting them with their "skimmers" and panamas. A New York Times editorial of May 20, 1908, fulminates against those wearing their hats earlier than June 15, which was Straw Hat Day that year. "One or two warm days in the month of May do not justify the appearance of straw hats. The ancestors of this blind and impetuous generation who set down June 15 as straw-hat day considered the vagaries of the climate." The article suggests a rather folksy way the date gets determined. "The straw hat properly comes in with the strawberry. All our strawberries as yet come from the South, and it would be reasonable for the rushers of the Northern season to go South to wear their straw hats."
It would follow that, if there was a day to get out one's straw hats, there would be another day to put them back. Another Times article, this from September 16, 1900, indicates that September 15 was Straw Hat Day, and that those who did wear straw hats had them destroyed, particularly on the stock exchange. "Just because it was Sept. 15 some of brokers on the Stock Exchange wore their straw hats once more in order to get them smashed, and they were not disappointed. The ostracized hats lasted about fifteen minutes after the opening of the Exchange."
Later in the same article, Etiquetteer was chagrined that, even in History, there were rebels not paying attention the rules. "All through the financial district there were to be found individuals who wore straw hats, despite the cooler weather, just to show that they were not slaves to the custom of retiring straw hats on a given date, regardless of the climatic conditions." Etiquetteer knows with what glee certain readers will read this - those readers who ostentatiously wear white shoes after Labor Day and before Memorial Day.
In the 21st century, September 15 is now known as Felt Hat Day, so Etiquetteer will be lovingly retiring the boater until next May, and brushing off the black fedora for Another Autumn of Perfect Propriety. But for one last look back at what was truly a beautiful summer, allow Etiquetteer to leave you with this Perfectly Proper Portrait by Joe Williams of JWLenswerk. Now let's all put May 15, 2016, on our calendars for Straw Hat Day.