Wide-brimmed hats can be made from felt or straw, can be stiff or floppy, and can range in style from casual to formal. One of the earliest types of wide-brimmed hat was the sombrero, which was brought to Mexico by the Spanish. Originally designed for horsemen, they evolved from flat-topped hats with wide brims to the round-crowned, brightly colored show pieces we think of today. A relative of the Mexican sombrero is a version made in Columbia called the vueltiao, which is woven of caña flecha (a type of palm) leaves.
In the United States, cowboy hats are a good example of wide-brimmed hats. In 1866, Stetson introduced its Boss of the Plains. With its wide, flat brim and straight-sided, round crown, the hat was an instant success with anyone working outdoors, especially in the West, where the cowboy era was in full swing.
The hats attracted fans for reasons that went way beyond mere functionality. By the 1900s, Stetson hats were fashion statements, worn by everyone from Buffalo Bill Cody to Will Rogers. For Hollywood, Stetsons were irresistible props. Silent-film star Tom Mix was famous for his big, white 10 Gallon Stetsons, whose enormous crowns suited the cameras, as well as Texas ranchers, who liked their imposing look.
Straw sun hats also usually sport wide rims. In some cultures (Victorian England, for example), these hats suggest idle summer days when a cool covering to protect the head against the heat of the sun was a requirement of civilized society. In other parts of the world, straw hats are necessities—workers in Asian rice paddies would not be able to get through their long days without them.
By the 1870s, simple straw boaters with flat tops and brims came into vogue for both men and women. The origins of the design are difficult to pin down, but the hats were also popular with Venetian gondoliers, who tied brightly colored ribbons around the crowns of their hats. In the United States, boaters were soon associated with Vaudevillians, yachtsmen, and horseracing enthusiasts.
Around the same time, on the other side of the planet in Australia, a company called Akubra began making rabbit-felt hats for farmers, cattlemen, and others doing battle with the country’s scorching heat. Akubra hats have since been worn and popularized by Aussies as different as golfer Greg Norman and actor Paul Hogan, who gained fame in the “Crocodile Dundee” movies.
During the Edwardian period and into the 1920s, straw hats for women were worn for playing tennis, while umbrella-brimmed sun hats in bonnet and skimmer styles were the summertime rage. By 1939, many of these hats would be known as “Gone with the Wind” hats, named after the wide hats worn by that film’s heroine, Scarlet O’Hara...
Two other collectible types of wide-brimmed sun hats are schoolgirl boaters, whose crowns are tied with wide black ribbons, and Queen Anne style hats, which featured a wide brim in the front that tapered to a narrow width in the back.