Initially, I only owned little vintage hats I picked up in thrift stores (three out of four of my first hats were ring hats). However, in my early 20s I bought a few church hats at JC Penny’s and Macy's.
Princess Dianna is often credited with starting a hat resurgence in the 80s and early 90s, and her trendsetting style meant hats no longer seemed like something old ladies wore, but like glamorous accessories for a young princess. Personally, I looked more to old movies—like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s--for inspiration, but the renewed popularity of hats made them easier to come by and easier to wear.
In any case, I bought some brimmed hats in that time period, in a departure from my tiny vintage hats. By Kentucky Derby standards they aren’t large, but they are compared to most of my hats. I suppose, since they’re thirty years old, they might be considered vintage, but since I bought them new, I haven’t tagged this post under “vintage hats.”
The first department store hat I bought was this navy and white one. I used to wear it to church with a navy dress that had a white lace-trimmed collar. I even wore matching navy pumps. I was in my early twenties but fancied myself quite grown-up and sophisticated looking. (I haven’t been able to find any pictures of this outfit. I have a feeling now all I would see is a Jessica Mcclintock knockoff dress with huge shoulder pads).
I remember wishing I could wear the dress/hat combination every Sunday. I eventually got a few more Sunday hats, but this one was the first, and remained my favorite.
Then, as now,I was often the only woman in church wearing a hat. I wore this navy hat while visiting a rock band and powerpoint church filled with people in their twenties and thirties, the age I was when I initially bought this hat. However, besides me, the only people wearing hats were...men. I spotted a beanie, a fedora, and a leather ivy cap. The hipster men were making some bold headwear choices, but the women weren't. Sigh.
To be honest, navy blue is a little sedate for me now, so I no longer have a classic navy and white dress. In these photos, I’m wearing a dress that's the closest thing my closet now contains 😊.
When I started this blog, my goal was to wear every hat I had—the ones I hadn’t worn for years, and, especially, the ones I had never worn. Because the point was to enjoy what I had, I wasn’t planning to buy any new hats.
Well, that was the plan.
But it’s like when I worked in an ice cream shop: though I’m not a huge ice cream fan, being around it every day made me crave a hot fudge sundae. In the same way, wearing all these hats made me want to get some new ones.
I took to browsing shopgoodwill.com, Goodwill’s online auction site. Just looking, I told myself. And then, one day, I saw a lot of three ring hats: two yellow and one off-white. I had always wanted a yellow hat, and here were two! Plus, I have a weakness for ring hats. I decided to bid.
I was the only bidder. And even though the shipping was almost as much as the three hats, I felt I was still getting a good deal. And after these hats, I wasn’t buying any more, I told myself.
Well, that was the plan. But more about that in a future post.
When the three hats arrived, they were in good condition, except for the slightly misshapen ring on the off-white one. I finally had my yellow hat(s)!
Unfortunately, it was February, and a February of an especially cool spring. I had to wait until the weather warmed to justify such a springlike hat (and outfit).
So, here in June, I finally wore one of the yellow ring hats.
You can see from the way the veil fits that this hat is meant to be worn straight on the head. However, when I tried it that way, because of the bow on the top, I looked like I was wearing a propeller beanie. So I shifted it to the side.
By the way, reading through the yellow veil was especially hard. I had to flip it up in church every time a hymn came along. How did women in the 1950s and 1960s do it?
OK, this is meta. Every year, my writers’ group gives each other Christmas gifts based on the writing we’ve done during the year. For example, when I wrote a story about someone cheating at poker, one of the writers gave me a deck of marked cards.
One year I wrote an essay for a series called "Me, in a Hat." about wearing a hat I bought in Prague (which I'll wear and blog about in the future). Sheila, one of the writers in the group (who also gave me the Birthday Cake Hat and the Gray Mini Top Hat) gave me this black and white hat for Christmas, referencing the hat in my essay. Meta. BTW, to read Sheila’s essay about a hat (we were published in the same series) click here.
A word about this photo. It was really windy the day it was taken. Gale force winds. I’m holding onto the hat, not for a great pose, but because otherwise it would have blown off!
Someone who knows more than I do about hats might be able to tell you the official name of this shape. I call this the mini top hat. I chose this hat from the collection of hats offered to me by my friend Sheila at the same time as she gave me the birthday cake hat.
I wanted this hat solely because of the shape. It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but it’s asymmetrical—the side with the bow on it is longer than the opposite side. To me, it’s like a cartoon version of a top hat—scrawny, but expressing its outsized, jaunty personality. If this hat could talk, it’d make wisecracks.
Maybe I like this hat because that’s sometimes how I see myself: a short person spouting jokes.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.