Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The coolie hat

Picture source:

The coolie hat is an English name on a conical hat worn in several Asian countries for protecting from sun and rain, often made out of straw.

Anna Mae Wong

I’m not sure when Western fashion adopted this style, but at least since the 30’s and it became quite popular with Dior’s New Look, probably because it’s shape gave the new siloutte a nice balance. In its simplest form it is a circle where one section has been removed to give at shape and is secured by a ribbon under the chin.


New Look, 1947

I first came across it in Agatha Christie’s novel Evil Under the Sun (1941) where the beautiful Arlena Stuart makes her entrance in a white bathing suit and a green coolie hat in lacquered cardboard. As is usually the case when Christie is specific about a garment, the hat plays a vital part in the murder. Perhaps Christie didn’t like coolie hats as it is worn by another beautiful and stupid woman in Dead Man’s Folly (1956), but in black straw this time.

Greta Garbo

Patricia Morison, 1939

I would like to have one myself and have been looking around. Most coolie hats you can find are cheap ones meant for a stereotypical representation of a Chinese person at a masquerade, but at Village Hats you can find a nice one in straw. I, however, want a green lacquered one… The obvious solution is to make one, and I have a fairly clear idea on how. I will have to get back to you on that.

Lady Charles Cavendish, 1936

Source: via Elisa on Pinterest

"For hours of relaxation, Bette Davis selects a dress of black linen with a huge pocket encrusted with powder blue in a Chinese design. It is topped with a brief bolero of powder blue linen and a coolie hat of the same fabric".

Jeanna Limyou, 1954

Source: via Elisa on Pinterest

Teddy girls, 1955


Sometimes the fashion designers moved the original shape into more or less fanciful directions.

Dior fur hat



Lillgull said...

The widebrimmed diorhats from the beginning of the 50s I have always called panncake-hats, derives from the coolie.. of course! They have that panncake flattness.. I can recomend making a coolie out of a "bordstablett" in paperstraw, shaping it and then laquering it with "shellack"

Anonymous said...

Oooh, the teddy girls are so cute! I love it when Christie goes all specific like that; she often does save the sartorial details for the beautiful, stupid women who get killed, doesn't she? Most of the make-up references are about that kind of woman, too - she doesn't like long red nails either. I remember reading something gossipy about how the fact that she kills off a lot of femmes fatales in the novels had to do with her first husband and his infidelities, but I think that's a bit of a cheap shot. Who really knows?

Brittany_Va-VoomVintage said...

A green lacquered one would be amazing!! I have a similar one, which is made of woven straw that I bought at our local Japanese festival years ago. I'll have to see if I can find some again this year. I bet you could use the cheap ones as a base, covered with fabric or painted. excellent post!

Living Vintage said...

My in-laws went to china a few years back. I asked them to bring me back a hat and a parasol. Love those hats.

snippa said...

Great set of photographs.
I've used acrylic paint on straw hat material with success.

Isis said...

Lillgull_ I'm sure that would work very well. I want mine smooth, though... :)

pimpinett: Does she+ i have always had a feeling that most victims are wicked old men, but I have never really counted... I think Christie must have been quite interested in clothes, even if she mostly use them as props- almost all specific clothes details are clues. But shje also have a couple of transformations scenes when the plain girls gets a makeover, at least in Mystery on the Blue Train and the one with a poioson pen in a small village, and I have always enjoyed those.

Isis said...

Brittany: I'm sure it would work very well to cover it in fabric!

Living Vintage: What a treat! :)

Snippa: glad you enjoyed it. I plan on using acrylics too.

Johanna Öst said...

Great pictures! I love coolie hats and have a red one from the 60s:

Anonymous said...

Yes, the wicked old men (and rich aunts) are far more common as murder victims, but the femme fatale characters nearly always end up either dead or rather badly off when they are featured.

I really like The Blue Train, too - lots of description of clothes in it! Ruth Kettering might be an example of a femme fatale coming to a bad end, by the way, even though the portrait of her is rather compassionately drawn. I also get the feeling that she's interested in clothes and fashion, but Christie strikes me as much more conventional as a person than Dorothy L. Sayers, for example. Harriet Vane's wardrobe sounds stark, elegant and slightly insane, I love that about her.

Isis said...

Johanna: You look absolutely adorable!

pimpinett: That's true, I don't think there are any positive femme fatales at all, though she is sometimes compassionate- Arlena Stuart above is coming to a bad end, true, but she is also a woman that you can pity. As is Rosemary in Sparkling Cyanide. The only nice blond and made up girl I can think of is Joanna in The Moving Finger but on the other hand it serves the plot that she is very different from her brother visually.

Absolutely! Dorothy Sayers seem to have a rather quirky fashion sense. I don't recommend the biography Such A Strange Lady by Janet Hitchman because the author seems to have disapproved of a lot that Dorothy Sayers did, especially her fashion sense (and Harriet's) but she does describe some of Sayer's outfits. I always enjoyed teh glimpses of Harriet's wardrobe!

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