I can’t say I ever aspired to wear a turban. Oh, sure, as a girl I mocked up one for a Barbie doll using one of her sparkly halter dresses. But for me, turbans on white women maintained an old-lady vibe.
When I thought of turbans, I pictured Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
Then I got The Beaded Slumber Cap and, wondering if it was a turban, started researching them. I came across some wonderful pictures of Elizabeth Taylor decked out in turbans. Here’s one that I didn’t use in the slumber cap post:
Another great turban wearer? Barbra Streisand. I remembered some of her turbans from her album covers (as a girl, I loved singing to my mother’s Streisand albums).
All of these women have a certain diva quality. And so I came to think of turbans, not as a sign of aging, but a sign of confidence. These are all women who can own whatever they wear.
Now more interested in the style, I started keeping an eye out for a vintage turban. When a small Goodwill lot of hats came up including this pink hat, I bid.
Of course, in an online Goodwill auction, you can’t examine the goods for condition issues. In fact, you can’t even be sure exactly what they look like since the photos are often poor and incomplete. Nevertheless, I bid on the hat lot (which also included The Camel Cloche), liking most of the hats and being especially interested in a couple of them, including this one.
When I got the hats, I discovered that this hat was more structured than it appeared in the pictures. Though draped like a turban, it has the underpinnings of a toque.
So maybe I can call it semi-diva. And maybe as I get older, I’m becoming a bit semi-diva myself.
This hat was made by Patrice, the company that also made the Hat I’ll Never Regret Buying. The bows make the two hats, maybe not sisters, but cousins. In fact, in style this hat is also similar to last year’s red velvet Valentine’s Day hat. So maybe it fits that this pink turban toque is my Valentine’s hat this year.
For years, I haven’t been interested in going out for a fancy dinner on Valentine’s Day. Too crowded. A pandemic Valentine’s will be right up my alley. Five years ago, still unpacking boxes after our recent move, tired and disoriented, my husband and I went out for pizza on Valentine’s Day. Maybe we’ll grab a pizza again this year and raise a glass to quarantining with someone you love.
My husband is wonderful. From the beginning of The Hat Project, he has taken all the photos with great patience and creativity. He came up with the mirror pose in The Black Hat with Pearls, the doorway shot in The White Bonus Ring Hat, and the railway background for The Blue Straw Hat with Sequins.
He has also been a very good sport about the hat accumulation as I’ve shoehorned additional boxes into our guest room closet.
This Christmas, he gave me:
The hat book gave me a much greater appreciation of the work that goes into a handmade hat. I am not planning to start blocking my own felt, but I do want to be able to clean and fix some of my older hats. With the recent Goodwill lot that included The Camel Cloche I got a couple of hats that need some love and restoration.
I gave him some links to hats that interested me, including this orange beret. At this point, I am mostly looking for types of hats I don’t already own. Though I love little black hats, I have a lot of them. However, because I didn’t have any orange hats (the closest was The Bubble Hat, which has an orange ribbon) I was attracted by this one. I also liked its materials. I have another Woven Ribbon Hat, but it uses natural fibers and has quite a different vibe. Cello straw (the artificial straw used in one of my grandma’s hats) can be very shiny and artificial looking, as it is here. But it was the sixties. Plastic was stylish! And thanks to its classic shape, this vintage beret still feels stylish today, as I discovered when I wore it to the farmer’s market.
Some other hat types I’m on the lookout for: I’d like a vintage hat with a lot of artificial flowers. I had my eye out for a turban-style hat, but I recently bought one. I’d like another green hat. As they say in the fine print, this is not a complete list. I figure I’ll know a hat I want when I see it. Hats, after all, are about love. You never quite know what you’re going to fall for.
Fortunately, when I fell for my husband, I fell for someone great.
This year has been different in so many ways. But lately I've been feeling that difference in a very specific way: I have had no holiday gigs. For many years, I've performed holiday music throughout December. This year, my only gigs have been virtual. Meanwhile, my Facebook memories are filled with past gigs. It’s pretty depressing to scroll through reminders of what you can no longer do. Performing during the holidays is so satisfying—you bring seasonal joy to so many. I especially miss performing at senior residences and care centers.
Holiday performances often mean special holiday outfits. This Christmas Tree Fascinator I bought specifically for performing. Because I exempted performance hats from my "I will wear every hat" rule, I didn't feature it in The Hat Project last year. But this year, as the ghost of Christmas gigs past kept appearing, I decided to blog about it.
It is not my first Christmas performance hat. When the Fabulous JewelTones added fun holiday headgear to our usual outfits, people with surplus holiday hats brought them to rehearsal for those of us without hats. I immediately laid claim to a tinsel halo, though honestly, I’m not sure anyone else was interested in it. It reminded me of church children's Christmas plays of my youth, where the angels--my usual part--wore tinsel halos. (I never got chosen to play Mary. Not that I’m bitter!)
I loved wearing the tinsel halo, but alas, it did not belong to me. Before moving, I returned the halo to the group. In my new location, I joined a trio. When we booked a holiday gig, I needed a new hat, and ordered this Christmas tree fascinator online. Here I am wearing it at our first gig, where we got paid in syrah wine from local vineyards.
For the past few years, I've performed holiday gigs with my ukulele group. Here's a photo from a performance in an assisted living center last year.
This year, I thought I would go the whole season without wearing this fascinator. However, my church's singing group decided to do a virtual recording of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" for Christmas Eve. When the leader specified holiday attire, such as Santa hats, for the video , I jumped at the chance to wear the Christmas Tree Fascinator and make a festive performance for Christmas.
Like most of us, I am looking forward to a brighter 2021. I hope that by next year, I will be back to singing and playing "Feliz Navidad" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" on my ukulele, wearing the Christmas Tree Fascinator and spreading good cheer.
Thanks for reading my blog this year, and I hope you have a happy holiday, whatever form it takes. And if you have a holiday hat, wear it!
When I finished The Hat Project with The Last Hat, I was tired of hats. My Instagram feed, filled with vintage hats, left me cold. I didn't think about how much I'd love to wear a giant cartwheel hat, or drool over well-preserved forties tilt hat.
Maybe the lockdown had something to do with it. Even though our county had a lower case rate and I could once again go shopping, or eat in a restaurant (not that I did), or work out at the pool, I felt glum. I couldn't gather with friends, sing in chorus, go to church. I hadn't seen my mom or any of my siblings or their children since March. Some days felt like wading through deep water just to work, attend virtual rehearsal, write.
Then, my friend Ann gave me a couple of hats, and suddenly hats became a bright spot again. I decided, just for fun, to bid on a couple of vintage hat lots on shopgoodwill.com.
As I've mentioned before, buying hats from the online Goodwill is a risky proposition, because you can't examine the condition. But I took the plunge and bid on a couple of small (five or six hat) lots. I ended up paying the top of my range for the lot I got (I was outbid on the other).
From the listing picture, it was obvious that the Goodwill people thought this hat was the most enticing. They placed it in the center of the picture, mounted on the display head. However, I knew this hat was least interesting and the least valuable. It is the only modern hat in the lot, a Nine West wool cloche made in China.
It is also camel and brown, not colors I am drawn to, partly because with brown hair and eyes, I figure I don't need more brown.
However, it is a nice fall hat, and when my church had an outdoor, socially distanced meeting, I thought it would be perfect to wear. Our county's case rate has skyrocketed recently, and restaurants and gyms are closed to inside use again. We even have a ten pm curfew.
Last year at this time, I was celebrating pie Sunday at church and preparing to travel to my in-laws' house for Thanksgiving. This year, the church met in a family's ranch yard for a discussion about when and how we can start having services again, since we have only had one in-person service since the March shutdown. My husband and I will be staying home by ourselves this Thanksgiving, roasting chicken instead of turkey, skipping the mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.
But still, I have gratitude. My nearest and dearest are COVID free. I still have a job, food to eat, a warm house to sleep in on cold fall nights. And it was good to see my church friends again. Even though I couldn't hug anyone, and everyone was masked, we could still gather, and even take socially distanced communion with prepackaged single serving grape juice and wafers.
COVID has brought many negatives, but also many new experiences, like outdoor communion next to a field where sheep were grazing. The sun was out and the wind waved the aspen leaves in a celebratory gold flutter. And I was wearing a hat.
The first hat I ever owned was a cowboy hat. I got it at Disneyland when I was five: a brown, flat-topped hat with a string chinstrap and a picture of Donald Duck on the front. In our camper on the trip home, I sat at the back window and waved at passing cars. Most of the people waved back. Maybe that was the start of it all. I discovered young that hats attracted attention.
However, that was the last cowboy hat I owned for many years. To be honest, cowboy hats aren’t ordinarily my style. I used to have one that I got for free at Western-themed company picnic in the late eighties. The only place I remember wearing that cowboy hat was on a trip to the Grand Canyon—it was at that time the only sun-shading hat I had.
As I bought sun hats more to my taste, I got rid of the freebie cowboy hat.
However, as I mentioned in The Beaded Satin Slumber Cap and The Beaded Double Crown, while I was helping my friend Ann clean out her house after her sister’s death, she said, “If you see something you like, take it.” I was working with another friend, Marnie, loading Hefty bags with clothes to donate to charity, when we came upon a suede and leather vest and skirt. I was smitten. I loved its seventies vibe. It seemed about my size, though the tagged size of the skirt was two sizes larger than I wear.
Seeing how much I liked it, Marnie said, “You should try it on.”
I couldn’t resist. I slipped the skirt on over my clothes and found it fit. The fact that the size numbers seem large by today’s standards is one indication of the outfit’s age. The sizing charts have changed over the years, with the measurements for sizes increasing, so that, for example, a vintage size eight is more like a modern size four.
Though obviously a set, the skirt and vest have different maker’s labels, both from Albuquerque—the skirt Pioneer Wear, the vest Sullivan.
When I asked Ann if I could take the set, she seemed genuinely pleased. It turned out that it was hers, not her sister’s, and that she hadn’t worn it for years. (That is borne out by the torn ticket to an Elks Lodge Dinner Dance from 1989 I found in the skirt pocket).
She asked me to take a picture of myself wearing it. “Oh, there will be pictures,” I said, already planning to blog about it.
The other friends helping that day said, “What a great Halloween costume that will make!”
I agreed, even though I hadn’t thought of it as a costume, just a cool outfit that would be fun to wear (no idea where). Like the gold lamé coat I bought recently, I just wanted it. I don’t really see vintage clothes as costume—or perhaps I see all clothes as costume.
Unfortunately (and somewhat unbelievably) I did not have a hat to go with the outfit. The closest might have been the Forgotten Hat, which I had given away to a friend a few months ago.
So I decided to buy a cowboy hat to go with the skirt and vest. Of course, I was too cheap to buy a new one at full price. I visited several antique and thrift stores before finding this one for eight dollars. It’s obviously not old—just a modern, made-in-China hat, but I liked the lacy look. It was lighter, softer, and cooler than my old cowboy hat. I wore it to a Halloween zoom chorus rehearsal. Like The First Hat, I bought this hat intending for it to be a costume. But that doesn’t mean it ONLY has to be a costume. It would be perfect for wearing to the fair, for example.
I also put the vest to use as a pirate costume for a Fabulous JewelTones video. Like the hat, someday I’ll wear the suede outfit just for fun—not as costume, but clothes.
As I mentioned in the Beaded Satin Slumber Cap, I was helping a friend (also named Ann) clean out some of her sister's possessions when she gave me a hatbox. Inside was this wonderful beaded and sequined double crown. Since it belonged to her sister, Ann has no idea of its history.
When I searched online for more information, I found a few of these small beaded crowns for sale. My guess is that this one was a wedding accessory, perhaps with a veil attached. Here's a picture I found online of a sixties bride wearing one a bit similar:
When I tried the crown on, it immediately became apparent that it was missing the elastic, comb, or hairband that had originally held it in place. Perhaps that was lost with the veil. I rigged something up for the photo, though it wasn't easy to find elastic, since everyone is making pandemic masks!
I think the crown is from the sixties, but I am not confident in that estimate. Similar crowns online are listed as being from the forties to the sixties. As I've mentioned before, hats are difficult to date--you often have to go by style alone.
Sometimes writing this blog involves detective work, or just plain curiosity. In this case, I started wondering about Gigi Hats in Richmond. Fortunately, the hatbox had the address.
After doing some googling, I found another Gigi hat for sale with a hatbox from a different era. The store has been out of business for years; however, its signs remain. The barber shop that occupies the location has retained the sign on the side of the building:
Notice that the font is the same and that blue seems to have been their signature color. They also had a large neon sign. It is now repainted white, but here's a picture from 2012, before it was repainted:
It's hard not to see this picture as a metaphor. Hats, once a necessary accessory, have now declined to a niche product. Shops devoted to nothing but hats are rare and usually small. However, I take some positives from these signs. First, though the shop is gone, the signs are not. Someone has seen fit to preserve them as a legacy of a beloved local business, the same as my friend's sister preserved the beaded crown. And second, as my Instagram feed proves, many people like me are still interested in vintage hats, caring for them and cherishing them as much as the ladies of the past did.
Return to The Hat Project main page.
I recently helped a chorus friend (also named Ann) clean out her sister’s possessions after her passing. “If you see anything you want,” she said generously, “just take it.” As I was helping her empty one clothes closet, the other chorus members working in the house marched ceremoniously into the room, bearing a small hatbox. Knowing I love hats, they presented it to me.
The box was old. Whatever was inside had obviously held sentimental value to my friend’s sister. I opened it up and found, not a hat, but another special item of millinery (which I will be covering in a future post). After trying it on, I noticed the box contained something else, something blue satin folded in the bottom.
When I took it out, I discovered that the blue satin was the inside of another hat. The outside was white satin studded with beads. It intrigued me. Was it one of those fashionable turbans from the late sixties/early seventies, such as Elizabeth Taylor was famous for wearing?
However, when I tried it on and ran to a mirror, it looked more like a toque—in fact, it looked like a bejeweled chef’s hat.
So what was it?
I started a research game I called Turban or Toque, googling images of vintage hats (and discovering something called a "turban toque" which further confused me). I got out my hat reference book. Perhaps it was neither—maybe it was a tam? It wasn’t knit, and it was a little too floppy, but it did have the basic shape, the band, and a knot of beads on top in place of the pompom.
Flummoxed, I decided to call in the experts--The Fabulous JewelTones. On the weekly zoom call, I modeled the hat. “Turban, Toque, or Tam?” I asked. The costumer nixed tam. I got some votes for toque (“You look like the Pillsbury Doughboy!")
Finally, one of the jewels suggested it was a sleeping cap, such as ladies who got their hair done once or twice a week used to preserve their hairdos between salon visits. “My mother wore one of those,” one JewelTone said. “We used to call it her helmet.”
I had briefly considered that this cap was for sleeping but rejected the idea because it had beads on it. Wouldn’t it be uncomfortable to sleep with them sticking into your skull? However, I reminded myself that during this era women routinely slept on rollers, sometimes quite large and spiky ones. What were a few little beads to that, especially cushioned by a poofy sixties hairdo?
Googling satin sleeping caps, I found lots that looked very similar, though none were beaded. And this cap (as one vintage ad said) was clearly “Bouffant Size.”
When I wore this hat, I wadded up bubble wrap to mimic the bouffant that would have filled the cap. I imagined myself with an Amy Winehouse beehive hidden under there, ready to spring forth in the morning to conquer the world with Aqua Net-fueled, gravity-defying heights.
I was so pleased when my former singing group, the JewelTones, asked me to participate on a video they produced, a virtual project with the group singing the classic song "Route 66." Watch the video here. For other videos of the group performing, see their YouTube channel.
Recording the video was great fun, although I had to do a lot of takes. With the audio, hearing my voice isolated without other singers and without accompaniment was nerve-wracking. I had many moments of thinking "Why did I ever believe I could sing?" I also had many video outtakes, including the time I held my sign upside down and the time I came in on someone else's solo. Watching my performances, I kept thinking, "Why didn't I smile more?" and "My COVID hair is really long." But the end result was worth all the effort, put together by Deanne, a technical wizard from the group.
As I've mentioned in a previous post, opportunities to wear hats these days are rare. I've worn some hats to virtual church coffee hour, and I've worn the MVP hat and the Writer Gift Hat to the farmer's market and on neighborhood walks. But because I haven't been going many places, I haven't had the chance to wear any of the fancier hats. This video was a great project, not only for reconnecting with friends and singing, but for wearing my Forties JewelTones Hat. And hat lovers, be sure to check out the chapeaus of the other singers as well.
A few months into The Hat Project, I started thinking about what the last hat should be. I emphatically did not want to leave the worst till the last, ending with a whimper. Then I got an idea. Since I started with the first hat I ever bought, I would end with the last hat I bought.
I decided around the time I bought the Blue and Purple Hat with the Blue Feather. Maybe that would be it. Not long after, I bought The Hat that Got Away (Twice!). OK, I thought. That’s the one—the last hat. I figured if I didn’t buy any more, I’d be happy with that choice. It’s a great hat—probably one of the standout vintage hats I own.
And that was it for a while.
Then, when I was visiting my in-laws in August, I saw this hat at a local antique store. And (always a consideration for me) it was on sale. I didn’t have anything like it in my collection. As you may have noticed, I love small black hats. But this hat’s wild mix of colors and prints was unique for me. Still, it had a few minor condition issues and was a little tight.
I hemmed and hawed.
My husband, who was with me, encouraged me. “You’ll never regret buying that hat,” he said.
And he was right.
In fact, I’ve never regretted buying any of the hats I own. Some of them are uncomfortable. Some of them are no longer to my taste. But I enjoyed wearing them nonetheless.
And so, we come to the last of the hats I set out to wear for The Hat Project. I have worn and documented the sixty-some hats I own, telling some tales of my life along the way. My husband deserves a huge round of applause for taking over 5000 photos, from which I drew the ones featured in the blog. I’m grateful to every one of you who read these blog posts and shared the journey with me.
This won’t be the last post, though; it's just the end of the weekly posts featuring a new hat. I have a couple of additional posts in mind already, though don't expect them weekly. In the future, when we can have parties again, I DO want to have the hat party I wrote about. And, of course, a collector never really stops collecting. Though this hat is the last hat for now, I’m sure I’ll buy more hats down the road. Only something very special, I tell myself. Of course hats, like children or flowers, are all special.
Also, I’ve been very tempted to bid for some large lots of vintage hats at the online Goodwill. You can’t really see the hats or their condition, so it’s a gamble, but I would enjoy discovering what mysteries one of those lots hold. Life is, after all, an adventure. Why not wear a stylish hat while you journey?
I bought this hat more than a year ago, in an auction lot of three hats from the online Goodwill. That lot contained two other ring hats: the First Yellow Ring Hat and one I called the White Bonus Ring Hat because I really bought the lot because of the yellow hats--the white one was extra.
Last spring was unusually cool, so I didn't get a chance to wear the other yellow ring hat until summer. This spring, however, after a rainy March turned quite warm. I could have worn this hat any time. As luck would have it, the day that I took the pictures it was actually raining a bit--very unusual here for May.
Because this hat has a somewhat crown-like construction, I decided to take pictures in a nearby city that has a grand historic city hall and formal gardens (the same location as the Hat That Got Away pictures, though most of those were interior shots).
This hat is fun, but it's one of the less comfortable ones to wear. Because it's rounder than my head and resisted reshaping, the hat more or less perches atop my head instead of fitting it. Maybe that's why this hat is in such great condition--the original owner hardly wore it. When I ordered the hats from Goodwill, I thought this one might be the prize of the two yellow ones, but after wearing both, I have to say the other is a MUCH easier hat to wear. My guess is that this hat would work best perched on a giant bouffant hairdo, which I refuse to attempt, despite my overgrown quarantine hair.
Maybe this will be one of the hats I pass on to a new owner after this project. On the other hand, since it fits nicely in one of my smallest hat boxes, it's really no trouble to keep it. One of the weird things about me and hats is that I just like to HAVE them. I don't have to wear them or even think about them. I get satisfaction simply from possessing them. I guess that's what collecting is about: not utility but compulsion.
Return to The Hat Project main page.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and nonfiction and collects hats. In this blog she vows to wear (not just model, but wear out of the house) every one of her hats, blogging about their histories and their meanings for her.