Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Like Halo Top and Glossier before it, this summer the Out of Office straw hat has stalked me across the internet.
Ask any woman currently sitting in a Dry Bar and trust me, she’ll have an opinion on the chatty, oversized sun hats that were this summer’s (and probably last summer’s) Instagram Explore must-have. They’re one of those social-media phenomenons that everyone, all at once, seemed to own. The hats serve as a classic social-media double-brag. Not only can we see that you’re in a location exotic enough to need a sun hat the size of a monster truck tire, but you are not at work.
The hitch here is that skincare bloggers and bridesmaids don’t all have offices. Instead, these ladies opt for a Seas the Day. Or an Aloha Beaches. Or a Mrs. Just Married. These women all have one thing in common: They somehow carried a large straw hat on a plane. Did they stuff it in their luggage? Did they place it gently on their laps and hunch over a tray table for a six-hour flight? However the hats went global, the result is this: I promise within the next 48 hours you’ll see a photo of a statement hat next to some toes in the sand, or at least staring straight at you from over the cliff of an infinity pool.
The middle school amygdala reaction here is to find the fastest-shipping Etsy seller and buy your own statement clear in time for a holiday weekend Boomerang. But since we’re all adults here and we’ve decided not all trends work for us, I decided to save my money and investigate how unyielding vacation vibes got distilled into one large hat.
I spoke with 12 experts, culled from the ranks of Etsy and Instagram, about how the Out of Office hat got here. Here is its story.
In The Office
Dove Mittelman Buppert, Etsy seller: I made my first hat for a friend's 30th birthday party in Palm Springs. I've always liked DIY, so helping her nail the perfect Instagram photos was the least I could do.
Olivia Luko, Hats By Olivia: I started the brand two years ago with a core line of three phrases. The core was Rosé All Day, Out of Office, and Tequila Por Favor.
Buppert: I think I started with three hats; Rosé All Day, Do Not Disturb, and maybe another Do Not Disturb. I had a friend come over to photograph for me.
Megan Griffin, Honeymoon Hats: Almost coming up on two years ago now, it started with a hat for myself for a cruise. I wanted a practical beach hat that I could make fun, so I wrote Come Sail Away on it.
Luko: For me, being on vacation is being out of office. No emails, no calls. That’s why I came up with the phrase.
Griffin: There were a lot of people on their honeymoon on that cruise. They were like, “You should sell these!” When I got home I made one that said Bride.
Buppert: Best-sellers these days are probably Out of Office and Beach Please.
Kirstin Martin, Smitten Boutique: They were one of our top-performing items for the summer of 2016 and 2017. Do Not Disturb was our top-selling phrase.
Griffin: There’s a lot of puns to be made. Throwing Shade, Talk to the Palm.
Danielle Gervino, Etsy seller: My motto has always been, “If it doesn’t satisfy, DIY” — and so I did. I initially posted my straw hat as a DIY tutorial on my blog, Pineapple & Prosecco. After receiving an overwhelming response from my readers requesting custom hats, I decided to introduce them in my Etsy store.
Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy trend expert: The great thing about Etsy sellers is their expression of creativity and their ability to adapt to emerging trends. In many cases, trends start with Etsy sellers before they trickle into the mainstream.
Griffin: I started on Etsy, and developed an audience there and on social media.
Luko: I started on Etsy. It was really slow momentum at the beginning.
Martin: We first spotted the hat on Instagram, on the Two’s & Company feed in the spring of 2016. Once we started to see the trend on other Instagram feeds and on lifestyle blogger sites we brought it into the store.
Rachel Weingarten, author and trends expert: Believe it or not, I first saw the hat in real life.
Seas the Influencer
Luko: I got some major bloggers, like Kelly Golightly, to do custom hats. Lauryn Everts of the Skinny Confidential did a hat. I gained traction there. Then I had Lauren Pruner of PR Blonde. If you’ve seen the image of a girl sitting on a boat with a glass of rosé, that is my hat.
Karen Young, beauty marketing expert: To me, there are two logical tracks. One is the whole feminine period we’re in from a fashion point of view. Think floral tops, millennial pink. It’s ladylike and retro. The other piece is that the hat is so Instagram-friendly. The hat fills the screen, it’s a powerful image, and it’s a feminine way of replacing graphic T-shirts.
Buppert: It's so fun to share excitement with a girl going on vacation and help her to achieve social-media gold. Everyone has been really generous about sending back pictures for me to post, too.
Luko: The hat was featured on the LIKEtoKNOW.it account in May 2016. It got over 20,000 likes, and that was huge for me. Last summer, it was one of my best-selling products.
Gervino: Social media has so much to do with these hats blowing up. It’s incredible how big of an audience that just a few high-profile celebrities or influencers can reach, essentially being able to create a new nationally recognized trend in a week’s time.
Young: It’s a large image, so it works well to create a story for Instagram and Pinterest.
Luko: Bloggers came to me. It’s obviously become part of my strategy. It’s the only way I market. I rely heavily on Instagram to promote the hat.
Weingarten: If you're on the beach, you're obviously out of the office, so the statement isn't actually necessary. It's for the masses at home, the statement, the tableau, the picture of you announcing that you're away while you're away.
Young: It’s a little bit of a hide-behind. “Mask” is too strong, but a large hat is a barrier between the rest of the world.
Mrs. I’m on My Honeymoon
Gervino: I’ve made a handful of hats for women heading somewhere tropical on their honeymoon, wanting their new last name as their custom text. At the end of the day, spending over $100 on a hat is pricey, so I find that my customers are the ones who want to invest in it for a special occasion.
Griffin: The Mrs. Last Name is our best seller. People wear it on their honeymoon so everyone knows they’re just married. Sometimes the fiance buys it. They’ve written in to ask me, like, “Do you think these colors work?”
Daniela Sánchez-Herrera, social media editor/beauty writer: In a situation like this one with the Honeymoon Hat, I definitely got upset that I hadn't known about the brand before I left on my honeymoon back in the beginning of July. I would have and will most likely purchase one for next summer with my married name, not because of the pressure on social media but because the hat is genuinely gorgeous and great quality.
Buppert: Everyone wants to look glamorous and show their personality when they're on vacation, and it's easy to wear a cheeky suit with a cheeky hat to start a conversation with the mysterious someone who wants to buy you your next drink.
Griffin: We do a lot of bachelorette-party packages. They’ll get hats for the wedding party. We get a lot of groups. I did 20 La Dolce Vita hats this week for a wedding in Italy.
La Dolce SponCon
Luko: I do a lot of corporate events. I’ve worked with brands like Herbal Essences; I did hats for the Revolve team for the Hamptons house.
Sánchez-Herrera: I think the hat become a trend because many cosmetic brands send them along with their press gifts to influencers and beauty editors with a following.
Gervino: I will never forget receiving a request from a brand asking me to make 200 customized hats for their end-of-year company party.
Buppert: Somehow a few major cosmetic companies found me and have placed bulk orders for exotic company retreats.
Legalize Is a Beach
Luko: I went ahead and trademarked the phrase “Out of Office.” I wanted to protect my design; I had watched small designers go up against places like Zara and Forever 21. I now have a legal team.
Ko Im, lifestyle enthusiast: I thought Eugenia Kim started the trend.
Luko: I was the first person to put pom poms on the hat, and that’s my signature style. People see the hat with the pom pom and think of Hats by Olivia.
Gervino: As a style blogger, I’m constantly on the lookout for up-and-coming trends and when designer Eugenia Kim’s embroidered hats started coming onto the radar, I was intrigued. I remember seeing Kim’s signature Do Not Disturb hat on influencer Rocky Barnes and thought, there has to be a way to replicate this style without breaking the bank.
Luko: It’s really frustrating to be a small designer in the space now and to have people saying this is my product when it’s not. It’s rampant in the industry.
Representative for Eugenia Kim: Eugenia is well-known as the originator of sun hats with sayings.
Luko: It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time on as a small brand. As a designer, now I’m spending a lot of time with my attorneys. It’s not really where I want to focus my time.
Katie Manwaring, blogger/founder of KatiesBliss.com: I actually don't mind trends and have no shame jumping on the bandwagon when I come across one that I genuinely like, but sometimes it can be a bit of a turn-off when everyone on Instagram is featuring the same item.
Griffin: I don’t do “Out of Office” unless it’s a request. To me, it’s been done before.
Luko: I have tons of customers who started with one of the core phrases and then expanded into a custom hat.
Weingarten: Don't get me wrong, I think it's a cute enough concept, it was just dated before it even began.
Manwaring: I probably wouldn't go out of my way to feature it on my blog just because at this point it's a trend that's been overdone.
Buppert: Enjoyment of a sunny day shouldn't be plagued with guilt about wrinkles. With all of the messaging in the market and on social media about sun damage but people also being terrified of the chemicals in their products, a wide-brimmed hat is the only way to cover all your bases without dying!