Straw Hat Day – the day designated for men to switch from winter hats to the straw hats of spring and summer – quietly started in New Orleans in the late 1910s.
But in April of 1922, Mayor Andrew McShane decided to make it official, issuing a Straw Hat Day proclamation and urging men to “put the old felt lid away and crown your bean with nifty, up-to-the-minute headgear.” Stores filled their windows with straw hats, resulting in record-breaking sales.
Organized by the Retail Merchants Bureau of the Association of Commerce, Straw Hat Day was held yearly for the next four decades. But it was the first 10 years that were the most extravagantly celebrated. In 1923, they began shooting a cannon off six times to announce the day. In 1924, hundreds of new “Swiss Non-Breakable” hats were thrown from the roofs of the Macheca and Godchaux buildings on Canal Street. That same year, hats frozen into giant blocks of ice were placed around the business district, where one could wait for them to melt, or chip into it for a faster grab of their new free hat.
In 1926, a marching band and local merchants (all wearing straw hats, naturally) led a float in the shape of a straw hat down Canal Street. Atop the hat: two young ladies who tossed straw hats to passersby. In 1931, the Saenger Theater got involved, giving each young boy that surrendered their winter hat free admittance to an afternoon show, as well as hosting a fire truck parked out front. The Saenger organist and a dozen showgirls went up the truck extension ladder and tossed dozens of hats to spectators below, then paraded up and down Canal Street. The next year, they planned an entire day of programming, including music and a 12-foot diameter hat “packed fuller of girls than any hat ever was before.”
Straw Hat Day petered out in the 1960s, as the fashion of men’s hats as everyday wear fell out of style.
Two unknown men showing off the latest straw hat fashion in the 1930s. Newspapers would announce new styles every year – shapes, edge textures, brim sizes and straw color changed a little every year, but the biggest changes were in the bands. Some years they were bold, vivid designs; others, solid and solemn colored. A trend during WWII saw interchangeable bands, popular for wartime budgets.