“What hat are you wearing for Easter?” one of the women at church asked me.
“Oh, I don’t know. Something small, so I don’t block the other singers,” I answered.
She looked disappointed. The people at church have been very supportive of all my hats—I end up wearing so many of them there. One Sunday when I was ushering (and felt I should look professional) I didn’t wear one. “No hat?” or “Where’s your hat?” people said.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t have any really large, over-the-top hats. Nothing that would classify as an Easter bonnet in the movie Easter Parade (which is FILLED with great hats).
But I did have a vintage flower-bedecked number that was given to me by my friend, writer Sheila Scobba Banning. When an elderly friend of hers gave Sheila her collection, Sheila chose some hats, then offered me any of the others. Mindful of how many hats I already had, I restricted myself to three smallish ones: one black, one brown, and one blue-gray, which I’ll blog about eventually. However, Sheila also showed up with this hat, which she called “the birthday cake hat.” It does look like one, with its swath of pink netting and large flower in the center of the crown.
She said my singing group, the JewelTones, might want to use it as part of a costume. I thought it would be great for that—except the Jewels had 40’s outfits, not 50’s, in red and black, not pink. But I always hoped they’d deck themselves out in poodle skirts, clamdiggers, and flowered tea-length dresses, and when they did, I’d proffer the perfect 50’s birthday cake hat.
They didn't get those 50's costumes. So when I moved out of the area, I took the birthday cake hat with me. (JewelTones, if you ever need it, it's yours!)
Mentally reviewing my collection for an appropriate Easter hat, I thought of this mound of pink netting and silk flowers. If not Easter, when? Forget the subdued ring hats!
Easter morning, I showed up to church in the birthday cake hat. A few short months ago, pre Hat Project, I would have hesitated to stand up in front of the church in a hat encircled with poofy pink netting and with a giant artificial flower on the top. Not now, though. I didn’t block any of the other singers (I hope) and I added just a hint of Easter Parade to the festivities.
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After the first hat, the next two hats I bought were also simple rings with net. I have never worn them before.
These hats fulfilled my two primary hat requirements at the time:
This hat type is still pretty inexpensive and easy to find (in fact, I picked up a group of three recently for $20.00 at the online Goodwill), but they appeal to me beyond those qualifications. I love the tidiness of these hats—how with a fabric ring base, a net, and maybe some ribbon, they elevate an outfit.
As you will see, my hat collection is long on small hats and short on large picture hats, or over-the-top confections with giant bows and feathers. The day-to-day ladies’ hats of the 50's and 60's interest me more than the modern “Kentucky Derby” hats. Except perhaps in the South, those theatrical hats are designed for a special occasion (such as the Derby or a wedding). They are a shout that drowns out all else. I prefer hats that date from the days when no outfit was complete without a hat and gloves. They are harmony for the rest of the outfit.
These particular ring hats caught my eye because they had embellishments on the veils that interested me. The black hat has small black velvet flowers with green leaves.
The off-white hat has small fuzzy dots. I was also attracted by this hat’s bow in the back and pillbox shape. It’s like one of those false-front buildings you see in movie Westerns: from afar it looks like a pillbox, but if you see it from above you realize it’s a ring, not a full hat.
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A few years ago, I moved from the Bay Area. It was a hard move for me; I’d lived my whole life in the East Bay and the Peninsula. I had family there, lifelong friends. My husband and I moved to a town where we knew no one beyond our real estate agent. We endured some struggles getting through escrow (what do you mean, the showers only have lukewarm water? How could you repair the garage wall in such a way that the garage door won’t close?). After moving in, the first time it rained, our new roof leaked, and whenever we ran our microwave, a fuse blew.
All of these problems had easy fixes, but dealing with them made me feel even more uncertain that we had made the right change.
Within a week of my move, still up to our eyebrows in boxes, we showed up at the first rehearsal of a local community chorus. Unlike my last chorus, this one did not require an audition, just a voice check. I wasn’t nervous (or not very) when the director took me through scales to find out my range.
But one element was the same in both choruses: the friendliness of the group. The singers in this chorus were so uniformly welcoming that for the first time since the move, I felt like I had found my place, my people.
Recently, another alto, Lee, came up to me at rehearsal with a grocery bag. It contained a red hat that was too small for her. Would I be interested in it? Of course I would!
The hat worked well for winter trips to the farmer’s market, when my usual straw sun hat wouldn’t be warm enough or suited to potentially damp weather. So here I am, wearing the red floppy hat on a drizzly farmer’s market day.
I bought this gray beaded hat at an art fair many years ago. It was made by Jax Hatz San Francisco. Because it covered my ears and wouldn't blow off, I wore this hat a lot while driving my convertible. I also wore it after top-down driving, especially if I had worn a ball cap—this hat hid hat hair nicely.
As the hat has seemed to loosen up over the years, I have worn it less often. I also find myself driving top-down less than I used to. Maybe that’s the loosening up in me, a laziness that doesn’t want to take down and put up the manual top, a skittishness about getting a headache from too much sun.
In this picture, I’m posing before the Carrizo Plains wildflowers—we didn’t travel top down because the rutted dirt roads would challenge my low slung car (and the dust would coat the interior). I put the hat on for the shots, and then was glad of its warmth when the wind came up as the day went on. I remembered why I had always loved this hat: it’s comfortable, neutral yet slightly blingy, and cozy around the ears.
Here are some old pictures of my travels in this hat: In Monterey in 2001 and driving the coast in 2011:
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.