Once upon a time in America, men traded their felt winter hats for boaters on National Straw Hat Day every May and thus marked the unofficial start of summer. This year, in the coldest April in recent Tokyo history, the boaters are a season early, and it’s the women who are wearing them.

While grown-up headwear, from square fedoras and berets to flowery katyusha hairbands and whimsical head-perching mini-hats, are all responsible for upgrading the era of hip-hop’s baseball cap, it is the boater that is getting dressed up and down Tokyo. The Japanese name, kankan-bou (カンカン帽), like many fashion terms used in Japanese, comes from the hat’s French name, the canotier.  A classic straw version with a simple, solid wide ribbon gets top billing on the pages of online hat retailer CA4LA.com, but simple is just the beginning.

In addition to the standard wheat straw and other natural materials such as sweet-smelling cypress and raffia, the hats come in a range of styles and fabric. Would you like that in linen, denim and cotton printed with tiny flowers? Even animal prints are prowling the spring streets. The band is endlessly customizable, showing up in sequins, nautical stripes and black and white polka dots. In step with the decofuku (decorated clothing), trend, people are adding bows,  flowers or bouquets of buttons.

On morning show Mezamashi TV, a model traipsed through Tokyo shops trying on a few different styles, showing how the hat can be paired with many of the season’s other musts: denim shirts, frilly blouses, embroidered jeans, cowboy boots, short shorts, overalls, rompers or maxi dresses. Striking a pose for the camera, she tipped off viewers to a final fashion do: tilt the flat hat just so, to about a 30 degree angle.

Singer Miliyah Katou and model Rinka, a frequent cover girl for fashion magazine Sweet, are credited by some with helping to popularize the hat. Styles can be, as one site explains, “girly” or “mens-like.” Natural colored straw or burlap look at home with the cottony forest-nymph style of dreamy Mori Girls. At the other end of the fashion spectrum, for the Shibuya Girls who seem to embrace any color combination as long as it does not occur in nature, a hot pink leopard print might be just the right topper.

Fashion blog Puddhing asks, “Is there anything the kankan doesn’t go with?” One might think there are all kinds of outfits that a boater hat shouldn’t go with. But a stroll down a fashionable street in Tokyo this spring could prove otherwise.

Prices are from less than ¥2,000 at stalls on Takeshita Dori in Harajuku to over ¥10,000 on CA4LA.com. Noticed any eye-catching fashions on the street?

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.