For decades, every May would see men’s clothing stores advertising their line of new straw hats. Here, for example, is a vintage ad for Huntington’s George H. Wright and Co. Note that the long-time men’s store was then located at the Adelphia Hotel.
Editor’s Note: This is the 442nd in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.
Back in the day when no well-dressed gentleman would venture out of the house without a hat on his head, May 15 wasn’t just another date on the calendar. It was Straw Hat Day — the long-awaited day when it was time to trade one’s felt or wool hat for one fashioned from straw.
The beginnings of this special day are obscure.
In truth, the preference for wearing straw hats in warm weather began as long ago as the Middle Ages. In this country Panama hats rose to fame when photographers snapped a picture of President Theodore Roosevelt in a light-hued suit and a crisp Panama hat.
A 1908 New York Times editorial fulminated against those wearing their hats earlier than Straw Hat Day. “One or two warm days in the month of May do not justify the appearance of straw hats.”
The newspaper article suggested a rather folksy way for determining when to wear a straw hat. “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 is a proper day to get out one’s straw hats for the season, there would be another day to put them back in the closet. Thus, Sept. 15 has been deemed Felt Hat Day, an appropriate time to brush off your black or gray fedora for another long winter of service.
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