Hats with Lapel Cords

Boater hat (also known as skimmer, katie, basher, or sennit hat)

Boater hat (also known as skimmer, katie, basher, or sennit hat)

Recently my wife was reading a book entitled A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) by Betty Smith when she came across a passage which was interesting that she shared with me:

One day, Hildy asked Johnny to bring someone for Katie, her girl friend, the next time they went dancing.  Johnny obliged.  The four of them rode out to Canarsie on the trolley.  The boys wore straw katies with a cord attached to the brim and the other end to their coat lapel.  The stiff ocean breeze blew the hats off and there was much laughter when the boys pulled the skimmers back by the cords.1

I had not heard of this kind of hat before so I did a bit of research.  I couldn’t find any reference to a katie hat, but I was able to find a hat called a skimmer, which is also known as a boater, basher, or sennit hat 2.  Basically it is what we commonly call a barbershop hat today (see picture).  They are still popular in Italy where they are known as boater hats among gondoliers.  But there was something else in this passage that I wanted to research a bit. 

The thing that struck me in this passage was the peculiar practice of how the boys attached their hats to their lapels by a cord to prevent them from flying away in the wind.  Betty Smith’s novel addressed a pre-World War I time period, so I thought I might be looking for a tradition in the early 20th century or earlier.  A little more searching revealed that there are still hats today that are secured in this manner.

eBay Homburg hat with lapel cord

eBay Homburg hat with lapel cord

One interesting discussion I found was on a thread of a hat forum dedicated particularly to Fedoras in which their was talk about the “lapel cord” included with certain hats, and how to use it.  Many responded that such a feature was critical in windy areas, to keep one’s hat from blowing away and being lost.3

I found a couple other references to a lapel cord.  One was on the description of a vintage mens homburg hat that was being sold on eBay.  Part of its description reads, “As an added feature, there’s a lapel cord and button attached so Milord’s hat won’t blow away on a windy day.”

Boater's Cap with cord clip

Boater's Cap with cord clip

Even some modern boater’s hats still have cord clips to attach to your shirt so that if they blow off your head they will stay secure and won’t go in the water.  This is an interesting feature that I had not known much about before.

I have written previously about a similar tradition in antiquity of caps or crowns with strings or lappets used to secure them in different ways (see particularly Exodus 28:36–38).

  1. Betty Smith, A Tree Gorws in Brooklyn, 57, link. []
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boater []
  3. http://www.thefedoralounge.com/showthread.php?t=19258 []


  1. Posted August 30, 2008 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    So very cool! Thanks for sharing this information and for all of your research. This leads us to ponder the spiritual meaning and symbolism. “Draw near unto me, and I will draw near unto you” comes to mind. There are so many scriptures which use the terms “Cleave”, “Bind”, “Secure” and “Hold” to describe what we must do to keep Jesus Christ close to our minds and hearts.

  2. Posted August 30, 2008 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Thanks. Other scriptures to ponder (D&C 75:28; Lam. 5:16; 1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 3:11).

  3. Posted September 1, 2008 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Concerning crowns of glory:
    I found that in D&C 63:66, where it speaks of an exceeding “weight” of glory.
    The Hebrew word for glory is “kabowd”, and it literally means to be heavy.
    But the Lexicon I was reading pointed out that in other tenses, the word can mean:
    To multiply, to have in abundance, to be numerous.
    It then has effects on the meaning of the “weight of glory” in D&C 132:16.
    The “crown” is a numerous posterity.

  4. Posted September 4, 2008 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Kudos for spotting that. But here’s a little more to chew on: All hats stem from the same source, in spite of their multitude of variations and incarnations. They began as sacred furniture, but evolved into practical or decorative items outside sacred precincts.

    The key is to discover the origin of the hat and its original, sacred meaning. (Hint: It stems from the same religious tradition that gave us halos over the heads of saints, sun disks over the heads of pagan gods and the ornate crowns of kings, potentates and rulers of any sort.)

    The wheel is another such example. It began life as a sacred symbol, but was quickly pressed into service for its utilitarian value. Some Mesoamerican cultures refused to debase what they considered a sacred symbol by using a wheel on the ground, thus committing a sacrilege by profaning a sacred icon. Yet, their religious iconography was full of wheels.

    Few cultures felt so inclined where the hat was concerned. They became ubiquitous. By wearing that sacred symbol, a man could be seen as pious. Hence, Catholics (zucchetto) and Jews (kippah), among many other cultures, adopted hats for that purpose. Moreover, they were prescribed for use during all sacred ceremonies, rituals and holidays (holy days).

  5. Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    This may be irrelevant, but MormonSoprano’s comment reminded me of a hymn that seems to talk about the whole concept of ascension in some verses:
    “There let the way appear,
    Steps unto Heaven…”
    “And if on joyful wing,
    Cleaving the sky, sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly…”

    Anyways, just me rambling. Great post Brother Hammond.

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