On my 30th birthday, I took my first and only solo vacation—a few days in Elk, a little town up the coast of California. I stayed in a whimsical cottage with wooden angels on the walls and a cherub fountain in the garden. I walked on the beach every morning. At night I’d build a fire in the little fireplace and read. Away from everything, I had the stillness of mind to read poetry. I sketched, which I hadn’t done for years, buying oil pastels and a sketchbook, and sitting on the headlands trying to capture the exact blue-green-gray of the ocean. I wrote in my journal. I took luxurious baths in the soaking tub. Since I was staying midweek, as the days went on, the inn emptied out. One morning when I was the only person staying, I got a piece of French apple pie instead of the usual scone or muffin delivered in my breakfast basket. Magical.
Besides poetry and drawing, I had another subject on my mind. A few days earlier, a coworker and I had met for lunch, and over tacos we’d confessed that we were attracted to each other. Wary of an office romance, we decided to think about it before dating.
It didn’t take me long to decide. If an uncomfortable situation developed, I reasoned, I could always find another job. I liked this guy enough to risk it. I thought about him as sat on the tiny deck looking out at the Pacific.
A few years later, that man and I got married. We spent part of our honeymoon in Elk, at the same inn, though in a bigger cottage perched at the verge of the cliff overlooking the ocean, a place awash in light and the sound of the waves crashing below. We came back for our first anniversary too.
On one of those trips to Elk, I bought this hat woven of ribbon on a rough framework (straw? Jute?) and trimmed with a spray of artificial flowers--one of several hats I've bought on vacations. Because it had an elastic chin strap to hold it in place, I’d sometimes wear it driving in my convertible on slow city streets.
To me, this hat has always had a 1920s vibe, so I paired it with a retro dress and wore it to the local ukulele festival. Here I am, about to join the others in my ukulele club on stage.
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I was about to go overseas for the first time, to Hungary in the middle of summer. I knew I’d want a hat. At an art and wine festival, I saw a lovely flowered straw hat that felt right when I put it on. Sometimes you try on a garment and know, in your bones, it should be yours. That’s how I felt about this hat.
Only one problem: it didn’t flatten out for putting in a suitcase. Plus, the silk flowers looked delicate. “Do you think I could pack it for a trip to Europe?” I asked the milliner.
“You could put it in your carry-on,” she suggested, sounding a little doubtful. “Or, just wear it on the plane.”
I was skeptical of either method, but I loved the hat so much I bought it anyway.
A couple months later, when I was packing, I realized if I brought the hat to Hungary, either I would crush it, or I’d spend a huge amount of effort trying not to crush it. I left it at home. I ended up buying a simple, flat-pack hat in Prague (which of course I’ll wear in an upcoming post).
So, this hat did not get to go to Europe. However, it has gone just about everywhere else with me. It’s the perfect size and weight. Its brim is big enough to shade without being so big the wind catches it. It’s heavy enough to resist most wind as well. It’s a great beach hat, winery hat, picnic hat, farmer’s market hat, outdoor concert hat, anywhere hat. I wear it all the time. It’s my MVP.
A couple of weeks ago when I wore the hat to the beach, a sprig of silk flowers came off in the wind. It wasn’t the first. This hat is thirteen years old, and I dread what will happen when it finally gives up the ghost. How will I find another MVP hat? The hatmaker, Phoenix Hats of Roseville California, has no web presence. She probably got out of the business. Even if she still made hats, what are the chances that she’d have one like this one, thirteen years later?
I just have to enjoy the MVP hat for as long as I have it.
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I was almost done with my Christmas shopping. I wasn’t in a hurry, just poking around in some local stores, hoping for an inspiration for the last couple of gifts. I went into an antique/vintage store that had recently moved into a downtown location and saw this little black hat with pearls on it.
Just my kind of hat. I tried it on. Cute! But its price tag was missing and the woman working in the store didn’t know how much it was supposed to cost. So, regretfully, I went on my way.
For many years I had had a hat moratorium. No more hats, I told myself. I already had so many that I never wore. However, since moving to this new town and starting to occasionally wear my hats to church, I thought I might make room for a cute, small hat such as this one.
A week later, Christmas shopping done, I returned to the store. The owner was there and had priced the hat. I thought about dropping a hint to my husband as a gift idea, but instead I decided to just buy the hat myself. It wasn’t expensive.
This little black hat is the last hat I bought before starting the blog. I wore it to church once soon after buying it, so this outing marked the second time I’d worn it.
As always, a big thanks to my husband for being my photographer. For this picture, we’d taken a few shots outside church, and when we got home, I wanted a few more to choose from. As I was refreshing my lipstick, he took this picture.
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Several years ago, my brother gave me this black hat made from two layers of cloth—lacey black over solid black. It’s a difficult hat to appreciate from a photograph, because much of its attraction lies in texture—the understated lace, the flowers’ different knits that give the impression of color variations in a monochromatic hat. Shebobo, a fair trade company out of San Francisco, made the hat, and they don’t appear to sell anything like it anymore, though they have other hats that look pretty cool.
My brother knows me well—so well that this hat is somewhat similar to a hat I bought for myself. Because I was already in the habit of wearing the gray hat, I probably haven’t worn this hat as much as it deserves.
I wasn’t planning to wear it (and blog about it) so close to the gray convertible hat. But as I was packing to see the flowers at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, I saw the following weather description on their web site: “The weather can change suddenly and it is frequently windy here during the spring. This is a DESERT grassland, so drink water often. Note that it can be very windy here in the spring.” I figured if they warned me twice about the wind, I’d better take heed. Remembering how cozy the gray hat was at Carrizo Plains, I threw this black cap into the car.
Was I glad I did! The wind blew relentlessly for our entire visit. We ate our picnic lunch with water bottles and cameras weighting our napkins and sandwich wrappers so they wouldn’t blow away, then headed out to hike through the poppies. As we climbed to get the panorama perspective on the wildflowers, the wind shivered the flowers. It Osterized bareheaded climbers' hair and lifted the flaps of sun protection hats like Dumbo ears. This warm, clinging hat was perfect.
Earlier I described hats as being like the ruby slippers transporting me to a more highly-colored fantasy world. But who needs a fantasy world when the landscape itself provides a view of Oz? This time, the hat was only along for the ride.
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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.