On the Water

Fisherman’s Oilskin Hat

Gloucester fishermen working on the North Atlantic were exposed to harsh weather conditions. Waves and freezing rain splashed over the decks and into the dories while the men worked. For some measure of protection, fishermen in the 19th century wore oiled clothes, the precursors to today’s waterproof foul weather gear.

This hat, referred to as a “Cape Ann sou’wester” because of its wide use in the fisheries around Cape Ann, Mass., is made of soft oiled canvas and lined with flannel. It has an elongated brim in the back to keep water from running down the wearer’s neck and inside his clothing. Ear flaps for warmth are also part of the hat’s design.

A catalog from the 1883 International Fisheries Exhibition in London claimed that with the sou’wester, “no class of seamen were so comfortably clothed as the New England fishermen.” At the time of the exhibition’s opening, sou’westers cost about $6.50 per dozen.

This Cape Ann sou’wester was displayed at the London exhibition, courtesy of its manufacturer, A. J. Tower of Boston, Mass. It was part of a display of the latest gear used and worn by American fishermen.

ID Number:
Place Made:
Boston, Massachusetts
early 1880s
24 cm x 50 mm x 41 cm; 9 7/16 in x 1 15/16 in x 16 1/8 in

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