Straw hat stall at
Luton market, 1920 [Z1306/75/17/43]
Wednesday 26th May 1915: The Luton Chamber of Commerce is furious at plans by the Chief Recruiting Office to issue a poster showing a straw hat and a khaki cap, with the caption “Which ought you to wear!” An official of the Office has told a Press representative that “a lot of men of the wrong class are trying to enlist. We are getting applications from men who should stay in their jobs, and others obviously over age. The man we want is the young slacker with ‘cold feet’, who goes up to town in a straw hat and fancy socks.”
There are fears that a poster of this type would cause serious damage to the straw boater trade, which has already suffered through so many men joining the army, where they have no need for Luton’s famous product. There is a real risk that the poster would cause even men who are not eligible to join the army to avoid wearing straw hats. A letter has been sent by the President of the Luton Chamber of Commerce to the War Office and the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee drawing attention to the likely repercussions if this poster is issued. He says:
“While not denying that some slackers may be wearing straw hats it is obvious that the mere wearing of the hat does not make the man a slacker, nor refraining from wearing it change his nature. Further, there are hundreds of thousands of men either of military age, or under military age, engaged in the necessary services of the Community, who may be deterred from wearing what is obviously the best and most hygienic headgear during the summer months. That this is not the object of the War Office is frankly admitted, but that it will have that effect I am afraid is beyond doubt. I trust, therefore, that you will see your way to withdraw any calculated to still further damage this most important industry”.
News, 27th May 1915