I bought this hat more than a year ago, in an auction lot of three hats from the online Goodwill. That lot contained two other ring hats: the First Yellow Ring Hat and one I called the White Bonus Ring Hat because I really bought the lot because of the yellow hats--the white one was extra.
Last spring was unusually cool, so I didn't get a chance to wear the other yellow ring hat until summer. This spring, however, after a rainy March turned quite warm. I could have worn this hat any time. As luck would have it, the day that I took the pictures it was actually raining a bit--very unusual here for May.
Because this hat has a somewhat crown-like construction, I decided to take pictures in a nearby city that has a grand historic city hall and formal gardens (the same location as the Hat That Got Away pictures, though most of those were interior shots).
This hat is fun, but it's one of the less comfortable ones to wear. Because it's rounder than my head and resisted reshaping, the hat more or less perches atop my head instead of fitting it. Maybe that's why this hat is in such great condition--the original owner hardly wore it. When I ordered the hats from Goodwill, I thought this one might be the prize of the two yellow ones, but after wearing both, I have to say the other is a MUCH easier hat to wear. My guess is that this hat would work best perched on a giant bouffant hairdo, which I refuse to attempt, despite my overgrown quarantine hair.
Maybe this will be one of the hats I pass on to a new owner after this project. On the other hand, since it fits nicely in one of my smallest hat boxes, it's really no trouble to keep it. One of the weird things about me and hats is that I just like to HAVE them. I don't have to wear them or even think about them. I get satisfaction simply from possessing them. I guess that's what collecting is about: not utility but compulsion.
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This elegant black hat is the last of the hats in the collection Sandra gave to me that included the brown wool hat, the red Breton, the black hat with scarf, and the embellished white pillbox, and the red velvet hat. Like the others, this hat is in a basic color, but the details are beautiful: The layered ribbon bow, the bit of embellished netting, the cord around the body that gives this pillbox a more defined shape than the classic straight sides.
Perhaps the most interesting detail is one no one but the wearer sees: the mod fruit-patterened fabric lining. The lining coupled with the shape makes me think the hat is from the early sixties. Note the union made tag that signals this is a vintage hat.
This is the first time I’ve worn this hat. It was the runner up for the tea luncheon with my friend Kate, but I decided it was more of a church hat. Of course, now I can’t wear it to church, since gatherings are cancelled because of the virus, but I did wear it to our charming downtown.
My husband (the photographer for all these shots) and I often head downtown for pictures. I pose against historic storefronts and brick walls, down alleys and against spray-painted back walls (I photoshopped out some graffiti). We've also shot in the park and on the play equipment, at the old Carnegie library, and at the children’s museum,. About a quarter of all the shots in The Hat Project are from downtown.
The town I live in started as a spa town because of the natural hot springs (the reason a couple of blocks occasionally smell like sulfur). People built a train station and a hotel to capitalize on the spring’s healing power. The famous Polish pianist Paderewski came to the springs, which he credited with helping heal his injured hands. He planted a zinfandel vineyard nearby, an early adopter of the current major industry of the area, winemaking.
Nowadays, the town relies mostly on wine tourism for its economy. Our downtown is full of cute shops, now shuttered for the pandemic, and good restaurants, now doing a limited takeout business for locals. It’s sad to wander around the mostly empty streets. I just hope the businesses make it. Even when they open, it will be a long time before the tourists return.
However, one of the first things that struck me about this town when I moved here was the public-spiritedness of the locals. The tractor parade that brings out the crowds, the free pancake breakfast during the county fair. The fundraiser for playground equipment and the support for the Paderewski festival. The friendliness that would give a box of hats to a complete stranger.
I’m grateful for the hats and I’m grateful for this town for taking me in. Here’s hoping we come roaring back.
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New Year’s Eve. In my cubical at work, I noticed on my wrist a weird-looking sore filled with a clearish liquid. I'd never seen anything like it. Huh, I thought. Did a bug bite me?
I felt a little feverish, but I didn’t connect it to the strange sore on my wrist. And I really didn’t want to think I was sick. It was New Year’s Eve! My boyfriend and I and a group of friends had tickets to a party at a hotel, the kind where everybody dressed in their fanciest clothes and danced the new year in. I’d seen so many movies with those kinds of parties, including When Harry Met Sally, but I’d never been to one. I’d always wanted to go. That year, I’d talked my friends into it and purchased the (at age 24 or 25, for me) expensive tickets. It was finally happening.
Like most people in the office, I cut out early that day. When I got home, I took my temperature. It was over 100 and climbing. I had to admit it: I was sick. But I wanted to go so badly, had been looking forward to the party for so long.
I decided I would attend anyway. I wore my favorite black dress (the same one I wore as Madame X) with a silver belt and a new hat: black with silver-patterned lace. I was running a pretty high fever, but I didn’t have other symptoms. I’d already forgotten about the weird sore on my wrist. So, I went to the party. Though it wasn’t as wonderful as a movie party, it was still fun. As CDs had recently ousted vinyl as the music format of choice, the decorators had hung records from the ceiling as decorations. (I remember one called “Rubber Glove Seduction”). No live band, but a D.J. played good music. I loved to dance so much, I almost forgot my fever.
The lighting conditions were terrible for photos, but here I am, running a fever of 101 or so, showered with confetti. Living my dream.
The next morning, New Year’s Day. I woke up still feverish, with many more spots. That’s when it finally occurred to me that I might have the chicken pox. According to my mom, I’d never had it, though sometimes she said I might have had a light case when I was a baby. I didn’t put much stock in that “light case” business, and had always avoided situations where I might be exposed. I don’t know how I got it. In those days, there was no vaccine.
Since it was New Year’s Day, I didn’t go to the doctor and get diagnosed until the next day. The doctor's office had me come and go by a side entrance, avoiding the lobby. My doctor prescribed bed rest, calamine lotion, and oatmeal baths. Then she said that I needed to quarantine myself for two weeks and tell everyone I’d been in contact with what I had.
I called my friends, all of whom had had chicken pox as children. I dialed in to a meeting and told my team at the office. Though one guy said he hadn’t had it, he fortunately didn’t come down with it. But there was nothing I could do about all the strangers at that party I'd exposed.
I really wish I had gotten to this hat before the coronavirus hit. As I wrote this, I wondered if I should put a trigger warning before it. Because I behaved so stupidly and selfishly, I exposed many people to a very unpleasant disease. I was ashamed of myself. This hat took on bad associations, not of the chicken pox itself so much as of the aftermath, of having to confess to so many people that I had exposed them, and of feeling guilty about all the strangers. I don’t think I ever wore this hat again till now.
So maybe it’s appropriate that I wore this hat during a shelter at home pandemic, quarantined again.
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My best friend, Michelle, (who gave me the dress in The First Hat) was getting married, and I knew I wanted a hat for the occasion.
She’d asked me to sing during the ceremony. “We like this song, ‘The Wedding Song’? Have you heard of it?”
“Everyone’s heard of it,” I replied, relieved that she hadn’t asked for something more obscure and difficult. Having never sung a solo at a wedding before, I was glad to sing a song I already knew. Hopefully familiarity would keep my voice from quavering.
Michelle had a beautiful outdoor venue for the ceremony, so a hat would be very appropriate. And one day, as I was walking through an art fair, I saw this blue hat. I especially liked its small brim, which wouldn’t block my vision or get in my way during singing. I really liked the blue color, as well. I was sure I could easily match it.
Well, I couldn’t. It turned out the hat was a warm grayish blue that didn’t match any of the summery, flowery frocks I’d pictured. I finally settled on a print coat dress of navy with light blue accents, not a typical dress for a garden wedding. Here we are, after the ceremony:
I put off writing this post because when I started this blog, Michelle and I hadn’t talked for a couple of years. Even when we’d lived nearby, it was hard to get together. She worked full time and had two kids. Since I worked evenings, our schedules didn't mesh well for phone calls, and we'd usually have to try several times before reaching each other.
Because of her kids, going out was difficult for her and coming to my house was just as hard. So if we got together, it had to be dinner at her place. I felt bad never being able to host.
And of course, our lives were different. She had children and I didn’t. She had a high-powered job and I worked part time. We didn’t work in the same field or pursue the same hobbies. However, a friend you've had since grade school is not like another friend. You've known each other so long that history has a gravitational pull that helps hold you together. But that pull can weaken.
After I moved four years ago, she’d called me a few times, and once we’d gotten together when I visited the Bay Area, but it was hard keeping in contact. She’s not on social media. She had a home email but wasn’t in the habit of checking it often. I didn't have a smart phone and didn't text.
One day when I was feeling sad and lonely after the move, I wrote her a note saying I didn’t think we should keep up the friendship if we had so little contact.
Of course, when I was over my depressed mood, I regretted my note. I treasured our contact, even if it wasn't constant. I wrote her a couple of emails to the old email address I had, but I wasn’t sure she’d even gotten them. I sent Christmas cards. I could have called her, but I hesitated. I wasn’t sure she’d want a call from me, since I’d been the one to sever the friendship.
When I wrote about her in the first hat blog entry, I emailed her to tell her about it. As usual, I wasn’t sure if my mail had reached her--the address was over four years old, and she had never seemed to check it much.
Months passed. When I was preparing to write about the Black Cloche with Red Flowers, I searched through my stash of old pictures fruitlessly for the shot of me at the ship’s wheel. Then my husband got out his box of pictures. While looking through them, he came across some I’d taken of Michelle and her sister and mother at her bridal shower. (I didn’t have a camera at that time and had borrowed his.) We had double prints. I gathered the extras of the shower pictures and sent them to her.
She called me to thank me, and we talked for the first time in a few years, catching up. Being reconnected felt wonderful, a burden lifted, a tie restored. I'd missed Michelle, her warmth, generosity, and humor. When the pandemic struck, we texted each other to make sure our families were OK. And then, when I wanted to write this post, I texted her, asking if she was OK with me using the wedding picture. She said yes, adding how cute we looked. I think we look cute because we look so happy.
So, it’s a good thing I waited to wear this hat, so I could give the story a happy ending. Michelle holds a special place in my heart. With no one else outside my family do I have such a shared history: gathering in our grade school club that met under a pine tree, drinking lemonade in her tree house, calling before seventh grade started to discuss what outfit to wear, passing notes on the high school choir tour bus ride, listening to each other’s early heartbreaks, serving her my horrible first attempt to grill fish in my first apartment, introducing boyfriends, being in each other’s weddings. Being there for each other through so much of life. I’m glad I didn’t lose Michelle, whose friendship means so much to me.
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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.