As soon as I saw this hat, I thought, “This looks like a hat Boy George would wear.” It has that eighties vibe to me, though looking at the pictures of Boy George, I would say this hat is smaller through the brim and crown than his.
My friend Bonnie gave the hat to me, along with other hats including the White Crushed Velvet, Rhinestone, and Feather Hat when she moved. She had removed the hat's black band, intending to make it over. However, she never did so, and when she handed it off to me, it was plain.
I started wearing it with a sparkly pin on it. Here I am at a concert before Christmas, accessorizing it with a poinsettia pin.
I’ve also accessorized it with the fall-colored feather broach that I’m wearing with the Black Hat with Scarf. But I chose the yellow flower because I felt the multicolored jacket deserved something more pop art.
About the multicolored jacket: when I met my friend Karen for lunch before Christmas, she described going to thrift stores with her daughter, who likes to buy colorful vintage eighties clothes. We both laughed. Then we each confessed that we still owned an eighties jacket, massive shoulder pads and all, that we loved too much to let go. Hers was custom made by a seamstress from a fabric Karen selected. The jacket sounded very tasteful, except for the mile-high shoulder pads.
I, on the other hand, kept the wildest of my eighties jackets, black silk with neon hands. I probably bought it at Ross Dress for Less, where I bought most of my clothes then. Those of you who know me from that time period might recognize this jacket, because I loved it and wore it all the time, to work, to bars, out dancing. I always felt there was something Yellow Submarine-ish about it: the psychedelic colors, the hands! Of course, maybe I was just thinking of that nightmare-inducing flying glove from the movie.
I thought this eighties-looking hat was the perfect opportunity to bust out the eighties jacket. When I put on the jacket, I was awed anew at the sheer size of the shoulder pads.
For this blog, one of my goals from the start was to wear every hat out in public, not just while I took some pictures. The pandemic makes that a challenge, since occasions when I’m in public are rare now. I don’t want to get all dressed up to go to the grocery store or to pump gas. However, I’ve worn this hat in public on many other occasions, so I felt comfortable fudging that goal.
What I haven’t worn in pubic for decades is this jacket. I was relieved to just take a few pictures standing alongside the road instead of mingling. When our neighbor drove by, I was embarrassed, thinking that wearing an eighties jacket is OK if you’re young and cute (like Karen’s daughter), but if you’re my age, you just look like you don’t realize it went out of style.
On the other hand, maybe you just have to OWN IT!
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Two weeks ago I was on a plane to the Seattle airport. My mother lives in that area, and I had planned a trip to help her with some tasks. At that time, the COVID-19 virus had had its biggest impact in that area. However, the California county where I live had not yet reported any cases, and the danger seemed minimal. We’d pass through the airport before traveling on to where my mom lives, which also had no cases then. I’d wipe down everything in my airplane seat area. I’d use hand sanitizer. I’d try not to touch my face.
I’d seen some social media posts depicting Seattle as a ghost town, so I was surprised my plane was nearly full. I was even more surprised that the bus I took from the airport was packed—standing room only. One or two people were wearing masks, including a woman across the bus aisle, who sported a cloth navy blue model (I wondered how she cared for it. Did she wash it every night?) The woman in the seat in front of me was eating a corn dog from a bag and occasionally coughing. With every cough, my neck stiffened.
I realized traveling in the time of coronavirus was a much worse idea than I’d though back in my unaffected home county. And I began to seriously worry that I might catch it and infect someone (especially my mother).
As my husband and stayed with my mom, the news got more and more alarming. Flights to Europe cancelled. No gatherings over 250, then 50, then 10. March Madness to be played before empty seats, then cancelled. I began to worry the airport might be closed or my return flight might be cancelled. I was in Washington under a week, but events unfolded so quickly it seemed like each day was five days.
Things that used to seem normal began to seem abnormal. People hugging friends. Standing in line near another person. A hotel serve-yourself breakfast buffet where people touched the same utensils to get food.
Things that used to seem weird began to seem normal. People wearing face masks. Waitresses sporting blue surgical gloves. Neighbors standing ten feet apart to talk.
The flight back had 27 people on it. Three people in first class, one in business. Here’s a look back down the plane before our takeoff.
I’ve never seen a flight so empty.
Because I’d been in Seattle, I stayed home when I returned, in case I’d caught the disease. Soon, however, the county, then the whole state was sheltering at home. So far, I feel fine (and so does my mother).
Sheltering at home means I can still go outside to walk or for necessary activities, such as getting food or medicine. What it doesn’t mean is going to places where wearing a black velvet pillbox is at all appropriate. So I’m not sure what I’ll do—whether The Hat Project will go on hiatus or if I’ll finish going through my hats, possibly more slowly. Like everyone else right now, I’m taking it day by day.
I hope you, my readers, are doing OK. Please take care of yourselves.
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I was out of work.
For the first time in my professional life, I had quit one job without having another job lined up. As I wrote in The Black Cloche with Red Flowers, the company I worked for had been acquired, and given the option to work for the new company or take a severance package, I took the package. About a year prior, I'd been through a horrible acquisition, and I wasn't ready to repeat the process. I told myself that the job market was hot--I already had a few leads. I told myself that the severance would give me a cushion, see me through the rest of November and the holidays, and I'd easily get a job in the new year.
Then, the first day I woke up without a job, I panicked. The hours stretched before me, empty. After almost ten years of full-time employment, I didn't know what to do with myself. I worried, too, that I'd never get a job again.
I called up my older brother, who had been laid off in the past and found a new job. He talked me down. It would all work out. I'd find another job, he reassured me. I'd get used to not working.
He was right. I did get used to not working, and it didn't take me long. I spent the next two or three days lounging in bed reading. Just reading for days, the biggest luxury I could imagine. Though my then boyfriend (now husband) had also taken a severance package, he had accepted a month's temporary assignment as part of the transition. While I'd envisioned us spending some time together, I was also happy to read. I did some writing. I baked Christmas cookies, something I usually had no time for. The days passed quickly but quietly. I had some job nibbles, but no offers.
One day I went to a holiday craft boutique at Stanford. I was looking for Christmas gifts, but as sometimes happens to me, I found a hat instead. Brightly colored, made of soft velvet and satin, this hat attracted me on sight. But I dithered. Jobless, I knew I shouldn't spend the money.
"I love the hat, but I'm unemployed," I told the hat maker.
"Change you hat, change your luck," she answered.
I bought the hat. And by the new year, I had a job offer.
I can't honestly say my luck turned from bad to good, because I was lucky to be able to take a little time off, and I was lucky to get a job offer. But I was relieved.
A company called Netscape hired me. They were the first company to sell a popular web browser that allowed people to access the Internet in a user-friendly way. Most people at that time (me included), did not have access to the Internet at home. Many people didn't even own computers. And of course, smartphones were nonexistent. It's hard for me to envision that world now. Netscape employees would go to company meetings where the CEO would tell us the Internet was like the telephone. We just needed to get enough people on it and it would take off. More businesses would start having a web presence. At that time, relatively few businesses sold products over the web. Amazon was in its infancy and only sold books.
Netscape was a wild ride. A lot of people worked crazy hours there (they had a room full of futons if you pulled an all-nighter). But I managed to keep my perspective. For one thing, I couldn't work constantly because I wanted to spend time with my boyfriend.
At the last party for shipping a product at our old company, we'd danced together to a reggae band on a rooftop in downtown San Jose. Now that we were dating, we went to hear that band, Inka Inka, in a small club in San Jose. I wore this hat to the club and danced with him to the band again.
I had a beautiful hat, an exciting job, and a great boyfriend. I had extraordinary luck.
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I don't drink coffee. I don't LIKE coffee.
I'm a tea drinker.
Since I no longer drink caffeine, I start every morning with what my husband calls my "placebo tea," an aromatic cup of decaf Earl Grey. Why would anyone want bitter coffee?
Some of my earliest tea memories are of drinking instant chamomile tea (it came in dissolvable squares!) on rainy days, listening to John Denver albums. Or my mother would make fresh mint tea from the peppermint she grew in patio pots. In high school I'd occasionally drink tea from a fancy bone china cup and feel like a grown-up lady.
By the time I went to college in Berkeley, my new go-to tea was jasmine, the more flowery the better. Despite the plethora of available coffee houses, at first I only drank tea at home. Because coffee houses always seemed so sophisticated to me, I don't think I set foot in one my whole freshman year at college. That's where the real intellectuals went, I was sure. The city dwellers. Not the suburbanites like me who grew up on a steady diet of Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. In those pre-Starbucks days, I didn't know of one coffee house in my hometown.
Eventually, though, I made friends with a bunch of other English majors and aspiring writers who loved coffee houses. My friends and I would go to cafes and discuss how much we hated or loved James Joyce. Most of my black-clad writer friends would have coffee, but I'd have Jasmine or Earl Gray, and hopefully a slab of shortbread. I think longingly of those cafes, each with its own personality. The Cafe Roma with its globe lights and sorority sisters ordering lattes. The Cafe Intermezzo, where every time I came in, a man was sitting at the same table, reading Proust. The Caffe Med (short for Caffe Mediterraneum) the old beatnik and free speech hangout that my manual-typewriter-loving poet friend haunted. Dustin Hoffman sat in the Caffe Med in The Graduate. Sadly, from a quick Google search, it seems none of these cafes are open anymore. It's like finding out that old friends have died.
Even now, when I have lots of pages of writing to edit, I go to a local independent coffee house where I can order a pot of loose tea and a scone or slice of coffee cake. Tea drinking in a cafe now means the love of ideas, of literature, of writing and striving to do my best work as an artist. I've staked a claim to the intellectual coffee house.
Tea shops, as opposed to coffee houses, have a whole different vibe. As a rule, few men venture inside these shops' flowery interiors, where ladies go to have exquisite petite fours and tiny lemon tarts. Whereas my college writing friends and I met in coffee houses to discuss literary giants, going to tea with a woman friend is a more personal experience. Meeting a friend for tea means a good conversation about the important emotional issues in life: significant others, children, pets, aging parents, health issues. For as much as it's important to discuss art, it's equally important to discuss life. And, though as a young woman I hesitated to go into a coffee house, I've always felt I could go to a tea shop. Put on a nice dress and prepare to scoop on the clotted cream. Though it takes intellectual confidence and knowledge to complain about John Updike, all it takes to converse in a tea shop is a heart for life, and I've always had that.
Recently, I met my friend Kate at a local tea shop. Kate also loves hats and has a collection large enough to outfit an entire Gilbert and Sullivan production in period finery. Since she's an actress and singer, she often provides her own hats for roles, as Eulalie Mackcknie Shinn in Music Man, as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Kate and I made a pact to wear hats and meet for tea (and yes, that is a Princess Di plate in the background).
The white hat I'm wearing was a gift from another friend, Bonnie, who gave me the green and purple hats as well as chose my Forties JewelTones Hat.
This hat is beautifully detailed. It has large and small rhinestones surrounded by intricate feather curlicues.
Over the years it's acquired some condition issues. I think the glue the milliner used yellowed over time, and the long feather looks a little sparse. But, I'm not free from condition issues myself, and this hat is a decade older than I am. It's a comfortable hat to wear. In particular, it has no veil, so nothing interfered with my consumption of tea treats!
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My friend Karen has an Etsy store where she sells vintage items, so she's always going to thrift stores and estate sales. Sometime before Christmas she let me know that she had a hat for me, which she described as "unusual." I felt a mix of anticipation and worry. I've seen some truly odd hats over the years, but I told myself Karen wouldn't get me anything horrible.
When I met her around Christmastime, she gave me two hats: the Dreamy, Romantic Hat from her personal collection and this mod bubble hat. Unusual is a good word for it. When I started this project, I might have shrunk from wearing it. But my main thought when I tried it on was "What a wonderful, unique sixties hat!" I was undeterred by my husband saying it looked like I was wearing spaghetti on my head.
Bubble hats are similar to pillboxes, but with a rounder shape. Here's Doris Day wearing a bubble hat in Lover Come Back, her 1961 movie with Rock Hudson:
Seeing this picture, my husband said she looked like she had Jiffy Pop on her head. (BTW, I got this image from a great post about her movie hats in the blog Between Naps on the Porch. This hat is not the wildest!).
You can see this bubble hat's shape is cousin to other large sixties pillboxes, such as My Grandmother's Navy Pillbox. All these hats were designed to perch on the head, so as not to crush the lovely bouffant hairdo.
Here's a closer look at the hat:
This hat has something both mod and boho about it, as if it's looking forward to the coming hippie years. Someone at church asked me if it was macrame, but it's just woven, stiffened (or artificial) jute (?) with an orange ribbon accent and a brown border so close to my hair color that it's hard to see in these pictures.
I own hardly any orange clothing, yet I managed to find a tunic that I felt fit this hat's mod sensibility. Here's an outfit shot, which also gives you a different view of the hat's shape:
Seeing the picture of Doris Day, maybe I shouldn't have worn the hat so far back. I think it was lower when I initially put it on, but the hat was so tall I kept knocking it askew as I got in and out of the car. Cars must have had more headroom when ladies wore hats!
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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.