Fisherman’s Oilskin Hat

Fisherman’s Oilskin Hat

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Usage conditions apply
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.
Object Name
hat, sou'wester
date made
early 1880s
late 19th century
on exhibit
place made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
Associated Place
Atlantic Ocean
on exhibit
United Kingdom: England, London
commonly used
United States: Massachusetts, Cape Ann
Physical Description
cotton canvas (overall material)
flannel lining (overall material)
overall: 24 cm x 50 mm x 41 cm; 9 7/16 in x 1 15/16 in x 16 1/8 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
International Fisheries Exhibition
The Development of the Industrial United States
See more items in
Work and Industry: Fisheries
Industry & Manufacturing
Clothing & Accessories
On the Water
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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I have my great grandfathers yellow sou’wester that is from the early 1900s that has become brittle and crushed. Can it be restored?
A very similar hat like the Sou'wester is worn by northern European fishermen and seafarer. The German designation is Südwester, i.e. Southwester.
The term sou'wester originated in Britain, where rain-bearing winds do come predominantly from the south-west. There is also a sou'wester jacket, traditionally used by fishermen. Nets would be raised on the lee (downwind) side of the fishing boat; the fishermen's back being therefore exposed to the rain, and the low back of the cap and gutter front would be highly effective in keeping the wearer dry.
"I am wondering how the term "sou'wester " originated, given that storm winds are usually south eastern while fair weather winds are south western. Is the implication that wearing the sou'wester turns a bad weather day fair? I could not find any information on the origin or the name on the internet."

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