So, you think you want to buy a straw hat. Of course, you do! The sun has got his on, albeit a sou’wester, and there are precious few days left in which to act out all those Brigitte Bardot/Beyoncé-on-a-yacht/Bianca-Jagger-getting-married-in-St-Tropez fantasies before you must pack them away for another year and get your jumpers out of the loft.
If you still have a holiday to go on, you might find yourself feeling a little frantic. Suddenly, all thought of sensible trans-seasonal trousers and lightweight jackets have melted away, like warm Solero, and instead you’re trying to justify as many lurid summer purchases as you can before the buzzer sounds, your time is up and somebody hands you the Boots Christmas gift catalogue. The airport Accessorize saw you coming and rubbed its hands with glee (you may wish to refer to our other pamphlets, So You Think You Want To Buy A Pair of Novelty Sunglasses and So You Think You Want To Buy A Toe Ring).
In theory, a hat is a sensible summer purchase. Especially if, like me, you’re prone to sun stroke and liable to spend several days a year lying queasily in a darkened room with a cold flannel on your head. A few millimetres of straw can be the difference between having a lovely day and accidentally coddling your own brain like an egg.
But that’s if you actually wear it, rather than doing what most of us do with sun hats, which is carry them around like a pet. Look at any idyllic summer scene and you’ll probably see them dotted around – a few sat on the ground, a few clutched in hand, some hung off the backs of chairs or perched whimsically on a nearby rock – but nary a single one on a head. Straw hats are to your holiday wardrobe what cushions are to your living room: seemingly important, secretly pointless.
You proudly put your new hat on. Ta-dah! Look out, world, you’re a woman in a hat! But then your scalp itches. Your fringe gets sweaty. Your vision becomes obscured by shadow and you nearly walk into a canal. You don’t even notice yourself taking the thing off again – it just happens. It is nature’s reflex. I think the longest I’ve ever managed to keep a straw hat on my head without taking it off again is about 24 minutes and that was because I was on an air-conditioned coach and asleep.
But none of this has stopped me from trying to make summer hats happen in my life. Ever since the floppy denim number I wore circa 96 in homage to Clarissa Explains It All, I have acquired a new hat each year and worn it with gusto for all of three hours. There have been baseball caps and bucket hats. There have been stetsons and, once, even a misguided sombrero. There have been many trilbies; the papery, cheap kind with a striped ribbon, bought off market stalls and abandoned in beer gardens. There have been fedoras, which, before you ask, are officially wider-brimmed than a trilby – sturdier and without the Pete Doherty associations. There were St Trinian’s straw boaters that never quite fitted on my head properly, and something nearing a bonnet that made me look like a Dowager Countess opening a fete.
But the most enduring, impractical and glorious of them all is the floppy-brimmed sun hat. One of the earliest I remember was from a beach shop in Lyme Regis, which I begged for throughout the holiday and was finally allowed to buy on the last day. I was about 10. It was nearly as wide as I was tall. I wore it sat on the Cobb, eating a cheese straw, assuming that passers-by must be reeling at my effortless glamour, while my brothers complained it was poking them in the face. I don’t remember what happened to the hat afterwards, but there’s a good chance it was hurled out, frisbee-style, somewhere on the M27.
The basic appeal of the floppy straw hat has remained unchanged for the past 100 years or more. They’re unfailingly, ostentatiously glamorous.
If you’re buying it in 2017, there is a risk it will have something like “Live, Laugh, Love”, “Smack My Beach Up” or “My Other Surfboard Is A Unicorn” embroidered on the brim, but otherwise the basic appeal of the floppy straw hat has remained unchanged for the past 100 years or more. They’re unfailingly, ostentatiously glamorous. They’re mysterious. They allow you to peer out from under them, doe-eyed, and say something enigmatic like, “Darling, we must stop meeting like this,” or, “I’m sorry, but we never got the second bowl of calamari – could you take it off the bill?” They look amazing with swimsuits, with cotton sundresses, improbably good with cut-offs and a T-shirt, but obviously best of all in an Instagram flat lay next to a book and a smoothie bowl.
Of course, there’s the ordeal of trying to pack the thing in your suitcase without crushing it. Your best bet is to cushion it in the middle of your clothes and fill up the head part with socks and pants, or just wear it on the flight and hold it lovingly in your lap. (See again: straw hats as pets.) And, despite its enigma-giving qualities, huge straw hats are not for the shy and retiring. You will always be The Woman With The Hat. Hatwoman.
But if anyone makes noises about you obstructing their vision, you can just play the sun-stroke/skin-protection card and remind them that it’s for your health. And you’re going to take it off again in three minutes anyway. Wherever you lay your hat, that’s your holiday.
5 of the best straw hats to wear (or carry):