The Straw Hat Riots of 1922

Donning a hat for the winter was much more straightforward a century ago. In many American cities, the 15th of September stood acknowledged as Felt Hat Day. Men discarded the straw hats that had seen them through summer and began sporting heartier replacements — a practice once enforced, in 1922, by roving mobs who snatched and smashed the straw hats of laggards, a perversion of etiquette indicating the severity of social regulation. Of course, 1922 was a long time ago — longer yet when we consider that ideas of hat etiquette extended from a millenniums-­old tradition in which the primary function of the hat was to signal rank, with protection from the elements a chief consideration of only those with a very meager claim to status. [link]

The truth of that observation was borne out in New York City in 1922, when a hat-snatching turned into a full-fledged, days-long riot. It began when a few kids in Manhattan’s “Mulberry Bend” section decided to disregard the traditional September 15 deadline and start snatching hats early, on September 13. They targeted some dockworkers; the dockworkers got angry and began to fight back. One thing led to another, and soon enough large hat-hating gangs were roaming through the city, snatching hats and attacking people en masse, occasionally using clubs studded with sharp nails.

…the riots continued the next day, and the day after that, moving from the East Side to the Upper West Side, where Amsterdam Avenue was reportedly packed with straw hat partisans. “In some cases, mobs of hundreds of boys and young men terrorized whole blocks,” reported one article. [link]

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