Since some of my hats are going to be hard to find an outfit (or an occasion) for, after the first hat I'm tackling some of the easiest: my wool hats.
Also, I need to wear them before winter is over.
I have four wool hats that I think are from the same maker, Parkhurst. I can't be sure, because the first one I bought is reversible, and so has no tag on it. I’ve had it so long, its origin is lost in the mists of time, but I think I might have bought it on a trip to Jack London Square, in Oakland. (Among the many things to like about Oakland is that they have a waterfront square named after a writer!) This hat is also one of my most well-traveled. It’s been to the Argentinian Andes, among other places.
I’ve owned a few pieces of reversible clothing over the years, and I always go through the same process. Seeing the item, I say: “How wonderful! It will be so practical--two in one!” Yet, when it comes to wearing it, I like one side so much better that I never wear the reverse. Such is the case with this hat—I only remember wearing the more cloche-shaped reverse side once. In fact, even when I took pictures with the reverse side, I didn't like it, so I'm not posting a picture.
Practicality can never make me like something better. I'll settle for it, but the merely practical doesn't catch my imagination. For example, my first car was a four-door sedan. Easy to drive people around in. Plenty of trunk space (I had such a small apartment I habitually stored my champagne glasses in the car's trunk). I was happy with it, but it never caught my imagination. When I got a Miata, though, I fell in love. Not at all practical, but so fun.
This gray wool hat with the velvet band I bought on vacation in Mendocino. I found this hat in the local hat store, hemmed and hawed because it was on the expensive side for me at the time, but eventually bought it. It was worth it, because it goes with everything—even a wild coat! It's not reversible, it's versatile.
Versatile is not the same as practical. Few of my hats are practical (even these wool ones, since I don't live in a cold climate). They are mostly for fun. I can wear this gray hat, for fun, under many circumstances. Forget being practical. Life is short. Enjoy the hat.
The story of the first hat I ever bought begins with a dress.
When I was in high school, my best friend Michelle and I were preparing to go to a Halloween party and needed costumes. It was the big party for the performing arts club. As a freshman, I’d gone as a gangster, wearing a man’s suit, carrying a false cigarette, and even drawing a charcoal mustache on my upper lip.
I thought it was a great costume. Creative. I was barely recognizable! Strangely enough, though, no boys sought me out. I felt out of place and slipped outside periodically to kill time before my ride came.
The next year, when Michelle and I brainstormed costumes, she rejected my suggestions. “We want costumes we look cute in,” she said, explaining, as she often had to, the simplest facts of how to get on socially. “Let’s look through my aunt’s old dresses.”
Her aunt must have been quite fashionable, because Michelle had a cache of fancy party dresses from the 1950s. They carried labels from dressmakers, not department stores. Michelle tried on a strapless tea-length blue dress with a huge skirt. “I can be Cinderella,” she said. She passed me a brown one with a filmy, uneven hem, as if scarves had magically swirled together to make a dress. I tried it on. It fit me as if it had been made for me, and I loved the way the skirt fluttered as I walked.
“Perfect,” she said.
It wasn’t a princess dress. It was sophisticated. I wore it to the party and had a much better time than I had the previous year, though that might have had more to do with being older and having more friends. I still didn’t have the courage to dance to “The Time Warp” and “Rock Lobster," though.
When I tried to return the dress, Michelle told me to keep it (I still have it!).
Later that year, as I was poking around a thrift store, I found a hat almost the same color as the dress—a 1950’s hat of satin and net. Now I had a complete costume. Over the next few years, through college and beyond, I wore the dress and the hat on Halloween. When people asked who I was, I told them I was June Cleaver.
One year, I went to try on the dress and discovered I could no longer zip it up. My days of dressing as Mrs. Cleaver were over.
The hat, though. The hat still fit me.
After I bought that first hat, I always looked for hats in thrift stores, and if they were cheap enough and in good condition, I bought them. I never wore them. I just liked them. Sometimes I’d take out the boxes where I stored my small collection and try them on. Those old hats from the 50’s always made me feel sophisticated, just like the dress had. People in old movies always wore nice clothes and hats, and for me, hats retained some of that glamour. They belonged to that cinematic world where people dressed in evening clothes and drank cocktails. When I tried on the hats I felt, just for a few minutes, as if I could be part of that world too.
For this blog, I'm trying to wear every hat I own, so I thought it was only fitting to start the blog with the first hat. I'll be wearing most of the dressy hats to church, and that's where I wore this one. Since I couldn't wear the dress, I paired it with a shiny jacket.
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.