Straw Hat Riots

Throughout time, clothing styles have been popular. Although we may look at some as if they are silly, that does not take away from their idea of how strictly these unofficial styles may have been enforced in the past. In the nineteenth century, straw hats began to become standard summertime wear. Straw hats were popular because they were very lightweight, and the weaving allowed for good ventilation on the hottest summer days.

By the early 1900s, it was socially acceptable to wear straw hats in the summertime as long as you did not wear them past September 15. Once September 15 came, it was deemed socially acceptable for a man’s companion to destroy his hat. Seeing as vandalism of other people’s property was sometimes socially acceptable; it soon became a tradition for young people to knock straw hats off of wearer’s heads and stomp on them. The ridicule that came with wearing a straw hat past September 15 became so popular that newspapers would warn people to remember to switch their hats out.[1]

On September 13, 1922, two days before September 15, a group of young men started the straw hat riot. The group formed in Manhattan’s “Mulberry Bend” area, now known as Chinatown. Once there, they removed and stomped on hats worn by factory workers and other people in the area. The stopping turned into a brawl when the rioters decided to stomp a group of dock workers’ hats, and the dock workers fought back.[2] The resulting brawl stopped traffic on the Manhattan bridge.[3]

The initial brawl had to be broken up by police, and some participants were arrested. However, groups of teenagers escalated the situation the next evening by walking around the streets with large sticks, some of which had nails driven into them. They walked around the streets looking for people wearing straw hats. If those people resisted giving them their hats, then they were beaten. Several men were hospitalized from the beatings they received.[4]

Several off-duty police officers found themselves caught up in the brawl when riders attempted to snatch their hats. However, the police response to the riots was overall very slow and ineffective.

Out of all the rioters arrested, the longest jail time received was three days. Most of the teenagers were found to be under fifteen years old and opted to be fined instead of sent to jail.[5]

Starting over something as simple as a straw hat, stomping on straw hats was commonplace until the fashion went out of style. Although the 1922 riot is said to have been the worst instance, people were also arrested in 1925. However, a man was murdered for wearing a straw hat in 1924.[6]

Stomping on straw hats only stopped being a thing when fashions changed and Panama hats became popular.

[1] Neil Steinberg, Hatless Jack (New York, New York: Plume, 2004), 226-227.
[2] “Straw Hat Smashing Orgy Bares Heads from Battery to Bronx,” New York Tribune, September 16, 1922, 3.
[3] Neil Steinberg, Hatless Jack, 226–227.
[4] “Straw Hat Smashing Orgy Bares Heads from Battery to Bronx,” New York Tribune, September 16, 1922, 3.
[5] “City Has Wild Night of Straw Hat Riots,” The New York Times, September 16, 1922.
[6] Neil Steinberg, Hatless Jack, 226–227.


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