Story: Rural clothing

Page 3. Hats, footwear and oilskins

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Hats and gloves

Until the 1950s, both men and women wore hats when they went out socially, in rural areas or in cities. Hats came in various designs and materials – some were even woven from cabbage tree leaves. The sou’wester is a waterproof hat with a broad flap to cover the neck. Thick woollen hats or balaclavas are essential winter wear for farmers, especially in inland areas of the South Island.

Many rural men still have a well-weathered hat, often for both work and leisure – worn not just for appearance, but also to keep off the sun. Hats, especially broad-brimmed ones, are enjoying a revival in the 2000s as people become conscious of the health risks of too much exposure to the sun.

Woollen fingerless gloves are also worn in very cold conditions – they expose the fingers from the first knuckle, so work can still be easily carried out.


Early rural workers wore leather boots, often with hobnails in the sole. It was soon acceptable for children to avoid blisters and chafing from wet and muddy boots by going barefoot, except at church and on other special occasions.


Rubber gumboots were first produced in New Zealand in the 1940s. They rapidly became popular, especially in rural areas – red-band gumboots, lace-up gumboots and white freezing-works gumboots are all associated with rural occupations. The rural town of Taihape has a large corrugated-iron gumboot sculpture, calls itself the gumboot capital of the world, and holds an annual gumboot-throwing competition. In the 1970s satirist John Clarke wrote some new lyrics for a folk song about gumboots, and performed it in the guise of his farmer character Fred Dagg.


Oilskin is cotton cloth impregnated with oil, making it impermeable to water. The material is made into brimmed hats, jackets and leggings. Before plastics and other impermeable synthetic materials were developed, oilskin was the main waterproof material used to make raincoats and leggings. The oilskin parka exuded the scent of the oils and waxes used to waterproof it – a smell that many associate with the outdoors. Oilskins were not completely waterproof, and exposure to heavy rain would soon see the checked flannel lining gently steaming.

The long oilskin coat with a split at the back was developed as a method of keeping dry, especially on horseback. It has become something of a fashion item, especially after the Speight’s ‘Southern Man’ beer advertising campaign of the 1990s, which featured taciturn musterers in the mountains clad in oilskins.

How to cite this page:

Bronwyn Labrum, 'Rural clothing - Hats, footwear and oilskins', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 April 2024)

Story by Bronwyn Labrum, published 24 Nov 2008