Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Luton Hat Trade

Straw hat stall at Luton market, 1920 [Z1306/75/17/43]

Friday 10th August 1917: This week has seen a complete shutdown of the hat industry within Luton for a holiday. This unprecedented event would have seemed unthinkable before the war, when few workers could have accepted the loss of a week’s pay. Wages are now two or three times higher than they were at the beginning of the war, and this relative prosperity has made the luxury of a holiday closure affordable.  

This is the time of year when preparations are made for the autumn styles. It appears that felt hats will be most in demand, and local factories have been producing them in readiness for several weeks. Velvet hats are also expected to be popular. For high-class goods Lisèrie hats with a uniform glossy surface are prominent. These are made from plaits imported from the Far East, but the hat makers are having considerable difficulty working with these plaits due to an inconvenient construction method. The export trade is depressed due to the insecurity of the ocean routes. Hats are still being sent to the colonies where there is still good demand for men’s hats, although the home trade is much reduced due to the war.

The workforce in the hat industry is largely female, so it has not suffered as much from military demands as other industries. However, it is already apparent that there will be a serious labour problem when the war comes to an end. Young women have successfully taken on various occupations that were formerly considered to be men’s work. Will they be prepared to give up these jobs when the men return?

Source: Luton News, 9th August 1917

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