Art of Hat-Making

The hat trade through the years

The Quercy Caussadais hat trade in a few figures

In the 19th and early 20th centuries:

– More than 3,800 people employed
– 4,000 to 5,000 hats made per day
42 hat workshops
– 12 miles walked per day per person to get to work

And today:

Two factories in Caussade and a hat block-making workshop
– A production facility in Septfonds
– One hundred or so workers
– Two living history museums
– Tens of thousands of visitors to the Summer Hat Festival

Did you know?

The straw hat came from the overflowing imagination of a young shepherdess, Pétronille Cantecor, who came up with the idea of braiding straw to pass the time while looking after her sheep, then making a hat out of it: la paillole.

The hat trade through the ages

The beginnings of the industry

In 1796, Pétronille created her first hat workshop, then founded a second and passed her know-how on to her family. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, Pétronille and her descendants made and marketed straw braids to Lyon, Nancy, Grenoble and Great Britain. At her death in 1846, the workshop was passed on to her grandson Fortuné Cantecor, who brought it to its peak (500 hats per day). Straw braid manufacturing employed at the time 3,000 to 4,000 people.

With the invention of the first sewing machine, local braid production became insufficient and the straw was imported from Switzerland, China and Italy.
The arrival of electricity and the railway at the end of the 19th century favored the development of this industry.
In the past, most business at Quercy Caussadais was centered around the hat trade: dyers dyed the straw, hat block makers made hat shapes, workshops made ornaments, “peillarots” scraped rabbit skins to make felt, etc.

The heyday: from the end of the 19th century to 1930

An important period for the manufacture of straw boaters, so dear to Maurice Chevalier.
At the beginning of the 20th century, more materials and models were used. The hat trade experienced an exceptional boom and employed more than 3,000 people working in about thirty workshops, including Rey, Mignot, Rousseau, Crambes and Cantecor.

Thanks to this development, Caussade and Septfondsbecame the most important hat-making cities in France and resisted the crisis. Then came the arrival of automobiles (into which it is difficult to climb while wearing a hat) and new fashions, which accelerated the industry’s decline.

Where can you buy a hat?

– at the Willy’s Paris hat store
– at the Crambes hat store
– from Didier Laforest, Caussade’s hat block maker
– a straw boater at the Quercy Caussadais Tourist Office in Caussade

And today?

The hat trade has taken off again with the arrival of a hat block maker in Caussade, a rare trade classified by UNESCO. And also thanks to the creation of the Septfonds Heritage Remembrance Museum, which traces the history of hat-making as well as that of the Spanish Retirada refugees and of the famous aviator Dieudonné Costes.
Finally, the Summer Hat Festival, held for the past 27 years, gives visitors an opportunity to discover hat-making know-how from the world over as part of a 5-day festival held around July 14th.

There are currently two hat stores in Caussade: Willy’s Paris and Crambes, which organize
visits of their workshops, and one in Septfonds: Coustillères.