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A straw hat is a brimmed hat that is woven out of straw or reeds. The hat is designed to protect the head from the sun and against heatstroke, but straw hats are also used in fashion as a decorative element or a uniform.
There are several styles of straw hats, but all of them are woven using some form of plant fibre. Many of these hats are formed in a similar way to felt hats; they are softened by steam or by submersion in hot water, and then formed by hand or over a hat block. Finer and more expensive straw hats have a tighter and more consistent weave. Since it takes much more time to weave a larger hat than a smaller one, larger hats are more expensive.
Straw hats have been worn in Europe and Asia since after the Middle Ages during the summer months, and have changed little between the medieval times and today. Many are to be seen in the famous calendar miniatures of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, worn by all classes,but mostly by men.
Types of straw hats
Straw hats are commonly blocked into shapes found in felt hats.
- Boater hat — a formal straw hat with a flat top and brim.
- Conical hat — the distinctive hat worn primarily by farmers in Southeast Asia.
- Panama hat — a fine and expensive hat made in Ecuador.
Artwork produced during the Middle Ages shows, among the more fashionably dressed, possibly the most spectacular straw hats ever seen on men in the West, notably those worn in the Arnolfini Portrait of 1434 by Jan van Eyck (tall, stained black) and by Saint George in a painting by Pisanello of around the same date (left). In the middle of the 18th century, it was fashionable for rich ladies to dress as country girls with a low crowned and wide brimmed straw hat to complete the look.
Virgin and Child with Saints George and Anthony by Pisanello
Mädchen mit Strohhut by Friedrich von Amerling
Walk on the Beach by Joaquín Sorolla
Fillette au chapeau de paille, by Berthe Morisot (1892).
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