Time Period: 1933 - 1937

Category: Accessories, hats

Accession Number: 2009.16.02

Donor: Elsie Brindle Brown and Susan Brown Smith


The hat is made of canary red cotton canvas with off-white, yellow (straw) thread used to stitch it together. For the cap part, there are six triangular pieces of cloth that have been sewn together to make it fitted to the head. There is a cloth covered button at its pinnacle to help tie it all together, like a traditional baseball cap. On the inside, there is a sweat band and a label for L.G. Balfour and Company, Attleboro, Massachusetts. The brim of the hat is a double layer of the cotton canvas with continuous stitching that goes around the whole brim. This gives structure and stiffens the brim so it is not floppy. On the front of the hat, the Greek characters for Chi and Omega are embroidered on in a terry cloth texture.


The Chi Omega hat was produced by L.G. Balfour Company in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Founded in 1913, L.G. Balfour Company specialized in selling goods to collegiate organizations, airlines and military personnel. Originally, they sold affordable filament-based jewelry for fraternal organizations and colleges in the United States. During World War II, L.G. Balfour expanded by selling military insignia. Post-war, they proceeded to sell signet rings, pins, insignia, stationary, leather accessories, diplomas, awards, yearbooks, and athletic wear[1] . Chi Omega, a national women’s fraternal organization in the Pan-Hellenic Association, was founded in 1895 at the University of Arkansas. The Chi Omega chapter at the University of Rhode Island was founded May 10, 1922. Elsie Brindle Brown’s Chi Omega bucket hat is colored “cardinal and straw,” the fraternity’s colors. Mrs. Brown was the President of both Chi Omega and the Women's Athletic Association while attending the University of Rhode Island. She played field hockey and basketball (Grist, 198-99) and was voted, "Best All-Around Athlete," on the Senior Ballot (Grist, 278).

University of Rhode Island Chi Omega Chapter House

The bucket hat is of Scottish and Irish origin, worn by farmers and fishermen. Fishermen would make the hats out of used sailcloth or oilskin and saturate the sewn hat in thick layers of tar, making it similar to a pith helmet. This made the hats sun-proof and waterproof and protected their heads from injury, from hazards like hooks, spears, and boat rigging. The 'sea hat' is a close cousin of the bucket hat and is made with the same tarred canvas or oilskin. The only difference is that the brim of the hat extends significantly behind the neck for sun and rain protection[3]

Later, in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the English gentry adopted the style for its comfortable and functional qualities. The hat was worn during a wide range of outdoor activities, such as fishing, cricket, golf, tennis, hunting, hawking, shooting, beach bathing, boating, cycling, mountaineering, walking or excursions. The English did not, however, adopt the layers of tar for durability and protection. Instead, these bucket-like hats were made out of tweed, linen, canvas, or felt[4] . One of the most desirable qualities of this style of hat was its resilience. These hats could be folded up and kept in a pocket while never losing it's shape or crisp appearance. They could be laundered, starched, and ironed. To boot, these hats were also snug-fitting, so it could be pulled down tight around the head, unlike a straw boater hat. It was not only the British elite that sported this fashion. This style of hat became common for all genders and ages, especially children. The fact that the hat could be securely worn by a child at play outdoors made this the perfect solution for protecting young skin from the sun.

In the 1880s, the US Navy also re-purposed this style of hat for sailors. The iconic dixie cut hat, is simply a bucket hat with the brim turned upwards. This style of hat was part of their issued uniform in the warm months of the year.

"It can be squared, rolled, crushed, fitted with "gull wings" or simply worn as it comes from small stores. It can be used as a flotation device or a sun shield or even, some claim, as a dog food dish. With its many shapes and uses, it may be the most versatile article of clothing a Navy enlisted man wears. According to Naval Historian John Reilly, "The 'dixie cup'-style hat has appeared and reappeared in the Navy as part of the uniform since it was first written into the uniform regulations of 1886." That year, the white canvas hat became the replacement for the straw hat previously worn during the warm weather months. The Navy needed a practical summer hat that was easy to clean and stow, cheap to manufacture and comfortable to wear. During the winter, sailors continued to wear a flat, black hat."[5]
Dixie Cup Hat
A Dixie Cup Hat with the brim flipped down.

It was not long before this style of the bucket-like brimmed hat became modernized. In the 1920s, the cloche-style hat emerged on the scene, taking influence from this older 'sou'wester' style fishing and outdoor sporting hat. The cloche hat has was commonly made out of soft felt and ornamented with ribbon bands, feathers, or jeweled accents. The same sporting cap style was still in use after this slight transition by men. "Informal hats and caps, especially for holiday and beach wear, were still being produced but many men preferred to go bareheaded whenever possible and it was no longer considered necessary to wear a hat to look respectable."[6]

In the high fashion scene, in Europe and America, this soft felt cloche-style hat became a mainstay in head wear during the early 21st Century. In the 1930s, the felt cloche hat made a retroactive transition back to a traditional and casual sporting hat. Later, in the 1950s, this generation of hat had more influence from the sou'wester style fishing hat. In the 1960s, fashion designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Emilio Pucci started making the brims wider and constructing the hats out of brightly printed fabrics such as silk, which went hand-in-hand with a psychedelic trend. In the 1970s the style reverted back to a felt, denim, or khaki construction cloche bucket hat. They were commonly in muted colors and quickly became the most popular style of headgear for women during this time[7] .

In modern England and America, the bucket hat has always had its place in everyday fashion. In the 1950s, the English and American Ivy League scenes made this style popular amongst the 'prep' crowd. This is where the bucket hat made its introduction into mainstream university merchandise. It was increasingly popular for baseball caps (for men) and bucket/cloche style hats (for women) to be made in school colors with university or fraternal insignia embroidered as decoration. This 'ivy prep' style has never really faded away, as the style and culture behind 'prep' is very conformist. From the 1990s to the present, there has been an "ivy revival." Companies like the Gap, Ralph Lauren, Nautica, J.Crew, Lacoste, J. Press, J. McLaughlin, Brooks Brothers, or the renewed Abercrombie & Fitch and Jack Wills (for the teenage crowd), have all created their success by catering to this audience. These brands even make their own university-like garments to sell to the general public. For example, Polo and Rugby by Ralph Lauren frequently sell letterman-like sweaters, only their own logo serves as the insignia[8] .

Other Terms and Styles:
Waxed canvas, foul weather hat, pith hat, cloche hat, sports hat, bathing hat, boat hat, rain cap, fishing hat, sou'wester.


Mea Duke, TMD 224H

Last updated:

January 30, 2014

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  1. ^ L.G. Balfour, The Balfour Story (Dallas, Taylor Publishing Company, 1953).
  2. ^ University of Rhode Island, The Grist 1937 (Kingston: University of Rhode Island, 1937), 179.
  3. ^ John Telfer Dunbar, The Costume of Scotland (London: B.T. Batsford LTD, 1981), 164-166.
  4. ^ Phillis Cunning and Alan Mansfield, English Costume for Sports and Outdoor Recreation: from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries (New York: Barns & Noble, Inc, 1969).
  5. ^ Hensgen, Marke A. To Cap It All Off … A Fond Look at a Navy Trademark: Uses (and Abuses) of the 'Dixie Cup' ( All Hands//860, November 1988), 33-35.
  6. ^ Penelope Bryde, The Male Image: Men's Fashion in Britain 1300-1970 (London: B.T. Batsford LTD, 1979), 187.
  7. ^ Christina Probert, Hats in Vogue Since 1910 (New York: Abbeville Press, 1981).
  8. ^ Patricia Mears et al., Ivy Style: Radical Conformists (New York: Fashion Institute of Technology, 2012).