You know how they say things like “don’t wear white after Labor Day” or “don’t wear socks with sandals?” Did you know that there used to be a very important rule that said “don’t wear straw boater hats after September 15th?” If you ignored that rule, your hat was up for grabs by any person walking down the street who wanted to grab your hat right off your head and destroy it.
The date had moved around a few times, but it seemed that September 15th was the date that stuck and because of this unwritten law and tradition, newspapers began to warn people when the date was approaching so they had ample warning to switch to a felt or silk hat. That way they wouldn’t be subjected to ridicule by their friends or be the target of some young people who would not hesitate to forcibly take it off your head and destroy it in front of you. In an article from the Pittsburgh Press on September 15th, 1910 the paper mentioned some youths violently grabbed the hats in order to destroy them in a more violent than usual manner. Most of the time, it was chalked up to young people often taking things a little too far, but ultimately harmless, but this article suggested that there would be dangerous consequences down the line if this keeps up. After all, it’s one thing to snatch hats off of a friends head in good fun, but it’s an entirely different thing to have it forcibly taken from you by a stranger.
Over the years though the hat bashing didn’t get too out of hand although sometimes on the days leading up to the 15th there were times that police had to intervene and stop teenagers who were getting far too into hat bashing.
The Straw Hat Riot of 1922 was one of those situations. It happened on the 13th in New York City where some group of boys in an area of Manhattan began to go around removing and stomping on the hats factory workers were wearing. It ended up turning into an all out brawl when they moved on from the factory workers to the dock workers’ who immediately fought back. The brawl ended up stopping all traffic on the Manhattan Bridge! Nobody died, but the violent riot did have to be broken up by the police and people were sent to jail (not for long though! Most of those boys were teenagers between 13-16 so most of them just got spankings by their parents…in front of the police).
The riots did end up continuing for two more days moving around the city where mobs of hundreds of boys and young men straight up terrorized the people who lived and worked in those areas. Police did their best to break up the riots, but those boys were viscous to the police officers as well, even if they weren’t wearing a hat.
The riots did eventually calm down though, probably because everybody stopped wearing their straw hats. There were never any other riots over straw hats, but for as long as those hats continued to be fashionable, there were definitely some instances of hat-related violence.
Luckily, straw hats went out of popularity during the Great Depression when Panama hats became more fashionable, by the 1950s those straw boater hats practically went extinct. It may be for the best, I don’t think we need more riots, especially not over something as trivial as a hat.
If you want more information though, I highly recommend this article by Slate: Straw Hat Riot: Remembering One of the Weirdest Crime Sprees in History which was what opened my eyes to this strange story!