THE STRAW HAT RIOT OF 1922
The Straw Hat Riot of 1922 was a riot that occurred in New York City. Originating as a series of minor riots, it spread due to men wearing straw hats past the unofficial date that was deemed socially acceptable, September 15. It lasted eight days, and it led to many arrests and some injuries.
Straw hats had appeared in the 19th century as summertime wear usually in connection to summer sporting events such as boating (hence the name boater). Soft Panama hats were likewise derived from tropical attire but began to be worn as informal summer attire. Initially it was not considered good form for men to wear these in big cities even at the height of summer (women's hats were different). By the early 20th century, straw boaters were considered acceptable day attire in North American cities at the height of summer even for businessmen but there was an unwritten rule that one was not supposed to wear a straw hat past September 15.
This date was arbitrary; earlier it had been September 1, but it eventually shifted to mid-month. If any man was seen wearing a straw hat, he was, at minimum, subjecting himself to ridicule, and it was a tradition for youths to knock straw hats off of wearers' heads and stomp on them. This tradition became well established, and newspapers of the day would often warn people of the impending approach of the fifteenth, when men would have to switch to felt or silk hats.
The riot itself began on September 13 of 1922, two days before the supposed unspoken date, when a group of youths decided to get an early jump on the tradition. This group began in the former "Mulberry Bend" area of Manhattan by removing and stomping hats worn by factory workers who were employed in the area. The more innocuous stomping turned into a brawl when the youths tried to stomp a group of dock workers' hats, and the dock workers fought back. The brawl soon stopped traffic on the Manhattan Bridge and was eventually broken up by police, leading to some arrests.
Although the initial brawl was broken up by police, the fights continued to escalate the next evening. Gangs of teenagers prowled the streets wielding large sticks, sometimes with a nail driven through the top, looking for pedestrians wearing straw hats and beating those who resisted. One man claimed that his hat was taken and the group who had taken his hat joined a mob of about 1,000 that was snatching hats all along Amsterdam Avenue. Several men were hospitalized from the beatings they received after resisting having their hats taken, and many arrests were made. Police were slow to respond to the riots, although several off-duty police officers found themselves caught up in the brawl when rioters attempted to snatch their hats.
Many of those taken to court following arrests related to the hat-snatching frenzy opted to be fined rather than serve time in jail. A few youths, including one A. Silverman, did serve several days in jail for their involvement in the riots.
The tradition of hat smashing continued for some time after the riots of 1922, although they marked the worst occurrence of hat smashing. In 1924, one man was murdered for wearing a straw hat. 1925 saw similar arrests made in New York.
That the activity died out is probably connected with the disappearance of the tradition of the seasonal switch from straw to felt hats. While Panama hats became, if anything, more fashionable during the 1930s, the straw boater became less fashionable. They had started as a fashionable item in the 1890s but by the 1930s comparatively few young men were wearing them (even for boating and other summer activities). They probably seemed dated, quaint and after the Wall Street crash, a symbol of the irresponsible 1920s. Straw hats for men continued to be manufactured but crucially they closely resembled hats such as the Panama, Trilby or Fedora in shape. By the 1950s the classic straw boater was virtually extinct as a garment, except in specialized circumstances such as the uniform of certain English public schools or university and college sportswear.
- "Discard Date for Straw Hats Ignored by President Coolidge". The New York Times. September 20, 1925. pp. 226–27. (Subscription required (help)).
- Steinberg, Neil (2004). Hatless Jack. New York: Plume. pp. 226–227. ISBN0-452-28523-2.
- "Good-bye to the Straw Hat". Magazine section. The New York Times. September 13, 1925. p. 20. (Subscription required (help)).
- "Straw Hat Smashing Orgy Bares Heads from Battery to Bronx". New York Tribune. September 16, 1922. Page 3, column 3.
- "City Has Wild Night of Straw Hat Riots" (PDF). The New York Times. September 16, 1922.