Saturday 24 February 2018

Hats off to the boater as it makes welcome return to style

According to Anthony Peto, our national love of Joyce means Irish men and women are partial to a decent boater
According to Anthony Peto, our national love of Joyce means Irish men and women are partial to a decent boater
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

The boater hat - favoured by barbershop quartets, WC Fields, and local butchers - is back in fashion.

It may seem an unlikely, and slightly impractical, style revival but apparently the straw hat is set to replace the flower crown in terms of popularity.

There's a chance it might even outflank fascinators on the Irish race day scene - fingers crossed. Hat maker Anthony Peto has seen a significant increase in sales of boaters in recent months.

"Boater hats are retro and raffish," he said. "They are reminiscent of picnic baskets, punts, and floppy hair. A boater hat is not a trilby, it's a little more individual, it is subtle and summery."

The hat, which features a flat brim topped with a flattened pill-box crown and is typically surrounded by a ribbon band, first became popular in the 1820s. It continued to be worn throughout the 19th century - with stars like Buster Keaton keeping it in vogue.

However it fell out of fashion after WWI when the panama became more preferable headwear.

The boater has always retained a certain sense of cool though; Coco Chanel was a fan, they popped up in Scott F Fitzgerald's novels, and our own Aoibhin Garrihy wore a modern-day version of a boater while judging Best Dressed at Galway.

According to Mr Peto, our national love of Joyce means Irish men and women are partial to a decent boater.

"History and literature hugely influences Irish people's choice in headwear. Around the time of the 1916 centenary celebrations, everyone wanted homburg hats - because that's what men wore during that period of history.

"People often come in asking for slouch hats similar to the one that Oscar Wilde used to wear. And of course there's the image of Joyce in his boater."

It has to be acknowledged, however, that while Joyce sported a boater before the First World War, he fell in line with changing fashion and adopted a panama once the war was over.

Mr Peto warns a substantial amount of confidence is needed to wear the hat well; as we all know there is nothing more tragic than a self-conscious man or woman in a statement hat (see Brian Cowen is his doctoral bonnet).

"The boater is a stiff hat so you need to get the angle just right; it's more flattering if you wear it sideways or pushed back to make it more jaunty."

Personally, I am delighted the boater is making a comeback - especially after seeing all the cumbersome headpieces worn in Ballybrit over the course of last week.

Like many spectators I have become fatigued not only by the predictability of the race day style but by the way so many attendees use it to plug their business/blog/boutique.

Ladies day is a cottage industry - and an extremely profitable one. Jennifer Wrynne started her millinery business in 2011, the same year she was named a finalist for Best Dressed Lady at Punchestown. Milliner Martha Lynn said it took a win at Leopardstown Ladies Day in 2010 to get her business off the ground.

This year everyone applauded the entrepreneurial know-how of winner Aoife Mac Cana for making her hat out of a fruit bowl from Debenhams. Impressive yes, but she is a professional milliner.

It's naïve to expect the competition to award those without anything to plug - I'm not asking for that. But perhaps we should take the winners and the extensive publicity they garner with a pinch of salt.

Irish Independent

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