I’m not much for large hats. I’m a fan of vintage close hats and half hats that perch on my head, little decorations. I always thought my navy and white hat and the blue straw hat with sequins were large hats.
But when Mary, my pool friend, gave me a bag of hats, I found this black hat that was, for me, enormous. Wider than my shoulders. Of course, much bigger hats exist, but this hat is the biggest I have ever worn.
When I put it on, my husband joked, “Will I be able to sit next to you in church?”
“It’s my social distancing hat,” I replied. “No one can get within six feet of me.”
I bumped the brim into the closet door, the car roof, my husband. I wondered why I couldn’t see to put on my lipstick and realized the big brim was shading me. At church I sat on the far aisle seat so I wouldn’t block anyone’s view of the pulpit.
However, an enormous hat has a certain glamor, as more than one church member said, “You look like a movie star!”
Maybe that’s not a coincidence. This hat is from Fred Hayman Beverly Hills. In the 1960s, Hayman managed the Beverly Hilton hotel. In 1961, he and his partners (whom he soon bought out) started a clothing store called Giorgio of Beverly Hills near the Beverly Hilton, on Rodeo Drive. According to Wikipedia, at that time Rodeo Drive was “a very ordinary street.” He was a pioneer long before the luxury brands moved in, to the point where his LA Times obituary called him the “godfather of Rodeo Drive.” Wikipedia says the store “had a reading room, pool table and oak bar, so that men could amuse themselves while the women shopped.” Truly a visionary!
When he sold the Giorgio of Beverly Hills brand to Avon in 1987, the store became Fred Hayman Beverly Hills and remained open through 1998.
I can’t date this hat within those twelve years, but to me it has a distinctly late 80s vibe, a la Joan Collins in Dynasty.
When I first tried out the hat, I felt sure that such a large hat would end up in my “donate” box (which I have yet to donate and from which keep pulling hats out to wear!). But it’s hard to resist the glamor of a movie star hat, which is probably what Fred Hayman was banking on all along.
“Look at you, lady!”
“Love the hat!”
The compliments started when I walked in the door at church. I was taken by surprise because everyone in church is used to seeming me in hats. In fact, if I don’t wear a hat, people claim they can’t recognize me. I usually get some positive feedback, but this reaction was more than normal. Even when we stopped by the Italian grocery store after church, a guy in the parking lot complimented me.
The hat’s size and color attracted the extra attention (well, that and maybe my coordinated red blouse, black pencil skirt, red heels, and black jewelry). All hats say, “Hey, look at me!” to some degree, but this hat shouts it. In general, I prefer more subtle (smaller) hats, but wearing a daring one is fun too.
This hat, like the red cartwheel hat, came in the Hefty bag of hats a friend from the pool passed on. It caught my eye immediately. I enjoyed it because it seemed an excellent example of 80s hat style, with its large brim and bold contrast in color and materials. However, my husband didn’t have the same appreciation. “It looks like a tire,” he said. (He has compared other hats to spaghetti and Jiffy Pop, as well as a bird's nest with bows on it.) He hasn't been wrong.
When I got the hat, it had what I at first glance thought was a long hatpin stuck in it.
However, when I went to remove it, I found it was glued in. It must have been a support for some long-gone decoration, possibly a large black feather (which would have been very in keeping with the era). Or perhaps something even more unusual. Here’s a picture of a hat from the same era by the same maker (Adolfo II) with an array of coins as decorations. If you remember the 80s (“Greed is good”) a money trimming is also era-appropriate.
In any case, once I removed the metal stick, I pinned on a sparkly flower broach. Not era-specific, but much more me!
A word about the earrings. These black earrings used to be my mother’s. She gave them to me about a decade ago, including a note saying that her parents bought them for her many years previously and that she had enjoyed wearing them very much. She said they were called Apache tears, which I discovered is a kind of obsidian (read the sad legend behind the name on Wikipedia ).
According to the website Crystal Stones, the stone “is best known for its comforting and supportive energies during times of grief and mourning.” My mother passed recently. I wore these earrings in her honor, but if you believe in the properties of stones, perhaps they brought me comfort as well. I know that rereading the note from her, seeing her handwriting, and hearing her voice in her written words certainly did.
"I have a hat for you," my friend Bonnie said when I met up with her and the rest of the JewelTones to film our "Chattanooga Choo Choo" video. When I had purchased the gold lamé coat, she had hinted that she had the perfect gold hat for it.
I admit I was a bit apprehensive. "Gold hat" could go wrong in a lot of ways--a quick Google search pops up cowboy hats, top hats, bowlers, and (yikes!) baseball caps. Even vintage gold hats can be over-the-top, featuring swooping bows and lines of sequins. I vaguely pictured a late sixties turban hat that would be best worn with a flowing caftan and giant hoop earrings.
Instead, nestled in the tiniest little hatbox (printed with little pink chicks) was this gold ring hat. It did indeed go perfectly with the coat--from just the same era.
The veiling is original, and looks to have tarnished over time, but the hat has lost none of its charm. Bonnie has given me a lot of hats over the years, and this one is destined to be a favorite!
This year, I got a super fun Christmas gift: a cartoon version of me by artist Lauren Kurtz, otherwise known as Coppertop Ink. As her website says, she draws "vintage style cartoon cuties." I started following her on Instagram after seeing one of her drawings of a woman in a vintage hat. Upon discovering that she does commissions, I thought it would be fun to have a picture to use as an avatar online.
Both my husband and I have reached a point where we are difficult to shop for at Christmas. We both get stumped as to what the other wants. To be honest, I got him four items with chocolate in them this year. Also, sweatpants. He asked me for gift ideas, and I finally sent him the link to the website and a picture to use. It was very close to Christmas, and on Christmas morning, when he didn't say anything, I assumed I'd given him the idea too late, especially as he'd gotten me several other lovely gifts.
But then, while he was visiting his parents after Christmas, and we were talking on the phone, he sent me the image. It was beyond what I had expected. I love the way she captured the hat and picked up the hat flowers in the frame. Here's the photo I sent, so you can see how she transformed me into a come-hither beauty.
I've written before about how I gained confidence during the course of The Hat Project to wear even the wildest hats. I never would have gotten an artist to cartoon me before the project either. Getting the drawing was a fun-loving way to start the new year!
As I approach Christmas this year, I’m thinking with gratitude of all the generous people who have given me hats. I have had the good fortune to have many people give me family hats, hats they no longer wear, hats they saw in thrift stores or estate sales or garage sales and got for me. About 40% of all the hats featured in The Hat Project were gifts.
Giving gifts is a basic human impulse. It makes us feel happy to make someone else happy. I think it’s easy to remember the bad side of human nature—selfishness and anger and heedlessness—and ignore the generosity and kindness and love we also show. So many Christmas movies are about just that--remembering the good we can do for each other and trying to do it.
Today’s hat was a recent gift from a friend from the pool, Mary. She sent me a picture of some hats she was looking to downsize from her collection and asked if I was interested. I said yes 😊.
We made a trunk-to-trunk transfer in the health club parking lot after water aerobics one day. (These parking lot transfers always make me feel like I'm participating in illegal deals). She handed me a bulging Hefty bag and also presented me with this cool retro wig /hatbox.
In the picture she emailed me, this red cartwheel hat appeared almost identical to one I already own, the Floppy Red Hat (another gift). Even the bands are the same. However, when I put this hat on, I discovered that it was structurally much different, with a stiffer brim that gave it a completely different shape when worn.
I hope you have a happy holiday, and that the coming year brings you kindness and warmth.
The Forties JewelTones Hat got another airing in a video my singing group The Fabulous JewelTones did. We recorded “Chattanooga Choo Choo” at home individually. After one of the members mixed the sound, we shot video at a few locations. I was only able to go to one location, the South Bay Historical Railroad Society museum, and it was amazing! They not only had a lot of cool railroad artifacts, they had an enormous room full of model railroad displays.
Growing up, my older brother had a model train and I loved watching him work on it—painting paper mâché hills and gluing artificial bushes and trees, and even shaving a pink crayon for little flowers. It’s delightful to watch the train chug through the little, perfect world. I did once draw upon the details of model railroads in a flash fiction, “Circle, Circle,” which was published in Monkeybicycle.
After The JewelTones shot the video outdoors and in the railroad society’s waiting room mock-up, one of our talented members, Deanne, assembled it.
It’s gratifying to see the video, but the best part was seeing in person the friends I had only collaborated with remotely for the last year and a half. Unfortunately, we were unable to sing together (right now most singing groups are only singing with masks and distanced), but it was fun even to lip-sync with my friends.
And the costumer, Bonnie, who has given me several hats in the past, gave me another one! So a new hat is coming to the blog soon!
Here's Chattanooga Choo Choo. Enjoy!
If you like the video, check out the JewelTones’ YouTube channel for other performances!
When I was a kid in the seventies, we had a set of Britannica encyclopedias bound in pebbly burgundy leather. As part of the set, my parents also ordered the Book of Year, which meant that every year, my parents received a volume summarizing the events and discoveries of the previous year.
I liked looking at the Book of the Year more than the regular volumes. The year books had lots of interesting pictures, and unlike random encyclopedia volume H-J, each of these books was a complete whole.
One day as I was looking them over, I took out the one covering 1968.
“Don’t look at that one,” my mother said. “Lots of bad things happened that year.”
It’s true when we think of 1968 in America, we think of the assassination of MLK, the demonstrations at the Democratic convention, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the continuing Vietnam war. The counterculture was raging, with hippies and drug use and psychedelic rock.
But “counterculture” must have something to run counter to, "square culture." And square culture was raging too in 1968. Richard Nixon was campaigning for President and would go on to win. Though “Hey Jude” was the Billboard top song for the year, orchestral instrumental “Love is Blue” was number two and “Honey” by Bobbie Goldsboro was number three.
When I saw this hat in the antique store, I pegged it right away as from the sixties: the material (plastic-coated straw), the shape (a modified turban). I have a weakness for light blue hats (see My Best Friend’s Wedding Hat, the Blue Straw Hat with Sequins). This one was very reasonably priced ($6.00!) and looked good on me. Plus, it was my birthday! I decided to buy it, even though I had no need for another light blue summer hat.
What clinched the deal, though, was that in the group of hatboxes below the hats, I saw one that I believe must have belonged with this very hat. Branded Marty’s, Wooster Ohio, the hat box top also had, written in ballpoint pen: Blue Summer, 1968.
Although I would have guessed this hat to be a couple of years older, more like 1965, I figured this had to be the blue hat’s box. And though the hat box, sold separately, cost almost as much as the hat itself, I HAD to get them both.
Later, I discovered that the box still contained the original receipt, marked paid, from June 1. No year given, but I assume the original owner marked up the box with the year.
And get this—I actually paid a dollar less for the hat than she did, though of course, she got the box for free.
I often feel a vintage hat is a time capsule. Fifty-three years ago, a woman in Ohio bought this hat. I don’t picture her as having gone to the Summer of Love, not with this hat. She was square culture, not counterculture. She probably went to church, or had a job where she had to look nice, and needed a stylish blue hat. She might have been black or white, old or young. She might have known someone fighting in Vietnam, a brother or son or boyfriend. If she voted, she might have voted for Nixon (who took 58% of the vote in that county) or Humphrey (37%). Hopefully, she didn’t vote for George Wallace, who got 7%.
I picture her in this hat during her summer outings: a party where she ate appetizers made on Ritz crackers, a philharmonic concert at the town bandstand, a church supper with jello salad and red punch that stained her lips. Maybe she wore it on a date to an Italian restaurant with checkered tablecloths, a candle stuck in a chianti bottle, and Dean Martin records playing in the background.
Because even against a year of great social unrest, of societal upheaval and its backlash, people still went to work, attended church, dated, packed lunches for their kids. Bought blue summer hats and lived the best lives they could. Living through another such time of upheaval, I feel as sense of kinship with the hat's original owner. As the news is full of pandemic outbreaks, voter suppression laws, refugees fleeing war and climate disaster, urgent marches for black lives and women's rights, I put on my blue hat (and my mask) and move forward.
When I saw this hat on Etsy, I thought, “That’s adorable!” There's something appealingly whimsical about this hat. I love the tiny daffodils, sunflowers, and daisies against green, like a summer meadow. This hat makes me think of warm days, a hammock, lemonade. Flying a kite.
Over the last year and a half, we’ve all been living with extra stress—sometimes a low-grade, constant background hum, sometimes a loud cacophony. So a hat that brings an air of fun and relaxation appealed to me. I dropped a hint and my wonderful husband gave it to me for my birthday. The hat is even easy to wear—I pinned it in place and forgot I was wearing it.
As I was sitting on the bench for these photos, a cat visited. Though I was petting the cat, he seemed more interested in my shoe.
Maybe that's because the magician on the shoe is changing the playing cards to fish!
Perhaps cats, like people, also enjoy a bit of whimsical fun.
(Note: the painting depicted on the shoe is by surrealist painter Michael Cheval. To see the full painting, click here).
“What was the milliner thinking?” I sometimes wonder when I look at vintage hats. Some are in unattractive styles that were unaccountably popular, and some are just weird, as I discussed in my last blog post.
When I tried on this hat, I wanted it immediately. I had very few hats with artificial flowers, and this hat fit me so comfortably. I liked its intricate woven raffia pattern. Plus, with its red, white, and blue color scheme I reasoned it would be perfect for Fourth of July.
But then I looked closer and noticed that the net hatband was…yellow? Where did yellow fit in with the combination of artificial poppies, daisies, gentians, and gardenias? Also, the flowers were not arranged symmetrically. Was that on purpose, to make it look more like a garden?
I often wonder what stories hats could tell if they could tell me their history. Were they worn once or twice and then kept in a box, or were they a favorite outfit topper? Were they designed for a specific occasion or outfit, like these bridesmaid dress hats?
(I got this image off a Bored Panda page on vintage bridesmaid dresses. It is TOTALLY worth looking at.)
What is this hat’s story? I will never know.
Despite the yellow netting, my plan was to wear this hat on the Fourth of July. However, the holiday fell on a Sunday, and a parade would be passing right by the front of the church I attend. I intended to walk around town before the parade and hopefully stay after the service a bit and watch, so I needed a hat with a brim for sun protection. I ended up wearing The White on White Hat with a red shirt and denim skirt.
Even though I wasn’t planning to wear the hat on the Fourth, I expected I would wear it with my red or my blue dress. I walked into the closet with the hat to see what it would look good with. Then I had a brain wave. I’d recently bought a yellow sundress that had red, white, and blue flowers on it. I had been so fixated on the Fourth, I hadn’t even considered the sundress.
So what was the milliner thinking? Maybe she made the hat for a dress like this!
Sometimes I see a supremely odd hat and think, “That’s so weird. I should buy it!” A hat that looks like it’s sprouting tentacles or is shaped like a giant seashell. For example, a while back, a hat came up for sale on the Goodwill site that looked like it had a dead bird on it.
I seriously thought about buying it, just because it was so weird. Then, remembering my resolution to wear every hat, I refrained. I have so many hats I love, why buy a hat that I don’t want to wear?
A couple of months ago, I was in a local antique store and came upon a wool hat that looked like half an egg. It was similar to this picture I found on Pinterest.
When I put it on, I looked like I was planning to dress as a hatching chick for Easter.
Once again, its oddity tempted me before I remembered that I would have to wear it. Back it went on the display rack.
Besides, I reminded myself, I already had this white organza hat.
I would not have set out to buy this hat. However, it was in an auction lot of Goodwill hats that contained two I was really intrigued by, the Pink Turban Toque and the Lilac Pixie Hat, and one that I was less excited by, but still happy to own, the Brown Tweed Pillbox. This white hat (and another I hope to restore) came with the group.
I see hats of this shape advertised under many different names: casque hat, half hat, Juliette cap, close hat, calot. But my favorite (though less common) name is the eggshell hat, because, well, that’s what it looks like.
It mystifies me that these type of hats were so popular. A spin through Etsy will show you several very similar to this one, in an array of colors. Maybe they were the headwear equivalent of the ugly bridesmaid’s dress. They are mostly in decent condition, perhaps because they were seldom worn—no one wanted to look like an Easter hatchling.
I didn’t either. But I figured if I was going to wear an eggshell on my head, I might as well wear the pie dress too. Though I feared I would feel ridiculous, I didn’t, once the whole outfit was together. It was fun.
Still, I draw the line at a dead bird hat.
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.