Riots over inappropriate straw hats

Straw hats, principally the ‘boater,’ originally seen at boating events, were regarded as “not quite right” for US city wear until the early 20th Century, when they became commonplace male headgear in city summers. However, it was generally understood that they should be put away by September 15th. It had moved from the beginning to the middle of September, and it was generally understood that anyone still wearing one would be subject to ridicule. Young men would knock the hats off wearers’ heads after that date and stomp on them to reveal their displeasure. Newspapers would remind people to put them away by the 15th.

It was on September 13th, 1922, that a group of youths took action two days early and instigated events that led to a major riot in New York. They began by removing and stomping on the straw hats of factory workers in Manhattan. This turned more violent when they tried to do the same to dock workers made of sterner stuff. They fought back, and a major brawl started that the police had to break up by arresting some of those involved.

A mob of about 1,000 teenagers carrying large sticks rampaged next day knocking off hats and beating the wearers, some of whom had to be hospitalized. Even off-duty police officers fell victim as youths tried to seize their hats. The riot that started on September 13th lasted 8 days, resulting in many injuries and arrests as thousands fought each other in the streets.

The practice of knocking off and smashing straw hats continued, but never at the same level of violence, although in 1924, one man was murdered for wearing one after the prescribed date. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, they were regarded as a frivolous symbol of the irresponsible 20s and fell out of favour. Straw hats were still worn, but now they were more likely to be a Panama, Trilby or Fedora than a boater.

President Kennedy was a disaster for the hat industry, appearing hatless at his inauguration and thereafter. Hats fell out of favour, and the boater was relegated again to sporting occasions and some English private schools. I only wear mine at Cambridge summer garden parties atop a boating blazer.

It was never against the law to wear one after mid-September, but widespread disapproval turned to direct action as people sought to impose their style preferences on others. It was regarded as acceptable to punish those who did not conform to what one group regarded as acceptable.

In modern times a howling social media mob will go after those who dare to give voice to thoughts that are deemed not ‘politically correct,’ and will bully and intimidate those who express views contrary to those regarded as sufficiently ‘woke.’ And physical violence is the stock in trade of ‘antifa’ thugs who beat up and terrorize those holding different opinions.

It’s not the same as attacking straw hat wearers, but it’s a horse from the same stable. Do as I do, say what I say, and think what I think, or you will be attacked.