This navy blue pillbox is the last of three hats I inherited from my grandmother, another of the wardrobe basics I talked about in My Grandmother's White Pillbox. It's navy wool with the minimal (but cute) decoration of three pearls. I wore it when my mother was visiting, hoping that she would remember Grandma wearing it. She didn't, unfortunately.
She did share other memories with me during her visit, though. One was the story of Grandma looking for work in the Great Depression that I included in My Grandmother's Cello Straw Hat. She also shared memories about her own life.
We went to the coast one day, and she told me a story I'd never heard before, about how when she was quite young her family and my Great Aunt Esther's family used to vacation every summer at the beach. They'd get cabins side-by-side and spend a week on the Washington coast. She said it was during the Second World War, and the Americans had deployed troops on the beaches in case the Japanese attacked. The soldiers would whistle at my young, attractive Great Aunt Esther.
But my mother's strongest memories were of going clamming. Her parents would wake her and her brother up early, and they'd go out to the beach to dig clams by flashlight. "It was so cold," Mom said, "cold and dark." She doesn't remember having a lot of fun at the beach, just the miserable clamming. Her mother would make clam chowder, but from Mom's tone of voice, she hated the clamming more than she loved the clam chowder.
She enjoyed our trip to the ocean where she could bask in the warm October sun, eat a turkey sandwich, and watch the ocean from the bluff, not a clam in sight.
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As I wrote in My Grandmother's White Pillbox, I inherited three hats from my grandmother, all what you might call wardrobe basics. I could wear this lined straw hat with almost any dress in my closet. The only hint of the color is in the bow in the back, and I'm not sure if it is a very pale green or simply beige.
The hat body is woven from cello straw and (I think) raffia. Cellophane straw, or cello straw, was an artificial straw quite popular in the 60s. I've never bought a hat made from it--it always seemed odd to me. Artificial straw made from plastic? Why? But I think people liked the hint of shine it lent to summer hats. Also, cello straw is sturdy. Many cello straw hats survived when natural straw might not have. My grandmother would have appreciated durability.
My grandmother graduated from teacher's college during the height of the Great Depression. My grandfather, whom she was dating at the time, drove her throughout the area as she tried to find a job. But no one was hiring. After their fruitless search, they decided to get married. At that time, married women were not allowed to teach school (though married men were), so by marrying, she effectively ended her teaching career before it started.
On the Sunday I wore this hat, I went home and after lunch taught English online, glad that times have changed, that I could not only work as a young single woman, but as an old married one.
When I said I would wear EVERY hat, I wasn’t looking forward to stepping outside the house in some of them. I worried about the Green Feathered Hat and the Birthday Cake Hat, afraid they’d be too over-the-top. I wore those, and it turned out fine. Fun, even.
But I dreaded this folded cloth hat with the green veil above all others.
My friend Bea passed it along to me after being given it at a garage sale. Yep, it was the other hat in the bag with the White Free-from-a-Garage-Sale Hat. In that post, I described this green veiled hat as “a bit odd.”
At first I wondered what had possessed a milliner to make it. Why pair an olive veil with such a weirdly beige off white? Was it made for a specific dress?
Then I realize that the hat must have faded drastically over the years. Sure enough, I pulled back the top layer, and underneath were the remnants of a green hat.
It looks as if it might have even had multiple shades of green. In fact, this hat might have been pretty cool looking when new. Maybe something like this one on Etsy:
But it wasn’t nearly as cool-looking now. However, I said every hat, and I didn’t want to put off wearing this hat till the last, ending The Hat Project with a whimper. So I sucked it up and wore it to church.
Maybe I even had it on backwards; I couldn’t tell. In fact, after church I took it off to fix my hair before taking more pictures, and accidentally put it on the opposite way without noticing.
People sometimes tell me, “I wish I could wear hats,” or “I don’t look good in hats.” I say that it’s mostly about confidence. If you feel you look good in a hat, you will.
It was hard to be confident in this hat. But I managed.
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Once or twice a year, my church holds an outdoor service at the beach to celebrate creation and our duty to care for it. This year, the service coincided with the beginning of climate strike week, the special recognition of the crisis our planet is facing. Being at the beach that day made me feel especially keenly how much we have to lose--the blue ocean, the flying pelicans, the tough ice plant. As the service made clear, we have a moral duty to care for creation, regardless of political persuasion.
The planet was really showing off its beauty that day. You can never count on weather at the beach. The last time we held a service there, it was cloudy throughout the morning, as you can see in the picture of me in the MVP Hat from that day. This time, though, the weather was so sunny and warm that I didn’t even need my denim jacket. I kicked off my sandals and strummed in the ukulele trio providing the service music. This black ribbon and straw hat, which I bought at a department store years ago, had the perfect, relaxed vibe.
As part of the service, we shared some meaningful times we’d spent at the beach. The pastor spoke about a time a pod of whales was so close to the pier that people were abandoning their cars on Highway 1 and running to the ocean to look. My husband described body surfing with his teenage best friend. I told how I'd grown up celebrating my birthday at the beach, about getting there early in the morning to secure a parking spot and a picnic table.
At the end of the service, as I was packing up my uke, people started calling to each other and pointing. Some whales had come in near shore, spouting white mist to the sky. I saw a flash of water-slicked back. A woman beside me gasped as she spotted a whale tail.
Maybe these whales will be the stories next beach church, when we again celebrate our precious planet.
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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.