A few months into The Hat Project, I started thinking about what the last hat should be. I emphatically did not want to leave the worst till the last, ending with a whimper. Then I got an idea. Since I started with the first hat I ever bought, I would end with the last hat I bought.
I decided around the time I bought the Blue and Purple Hat with the Blue Feather. Maybe that would be it. Not long after, I bought The Hat that Got Away (Twice!). OK, I thought. That’s the one—the last hat. I figured if I didn’t buy any more, I’d be happy with that choice. It’s a great hat—probably one of the standout vintage hats I own.
And that was it for a while.
Then, when I was visiting my in-laws in August, I saw this hat at a local antique store. And (always a consideration for me) it was on sale. I didn’t have anything like it in my collection. As you may have noticed, I love small black hats. But this hat’s wild mix of colors and prints was unique for me. Still, it had a few minor condition issues and was a little tight.
I hemmed and hawed.
My husband, who was with me, encouraged me. “You’ll never regret buying that hat,” he said.
And he was right.
In fact, I’ve never regretted buying any of the hats I own. Some of them are uncomfortable. Some of them are no longer to my taste. But I enjoyed wearing them nonetheless.
And so, we come to the last of the hats I set out to wear for The Hat Project. I have worn and documented the sixty-some hats I own, telling some tales of my life along the way. My husband deserves a huge round of applause for taking over 5000 photos, from which I drew the ones featured in the blog. I’m grateful to every one of you who read these blog posts and shared the journey with me.
This won’t be the last post, though; it's just the end of the weekly posts featuring a new hat. I have a couple of additional posts in mind already, though don't expect them weekly. In the future, when we can have parties again, I DO want to have the hat party I wrote about. And, of course, a collector never really stops collecting. Though this hat is the last hat for now, I’m sure I’ll buy more hats down the road. Only something very special, I tell myself. Of course hats, like children or flowers, are all special.
Also, I’ve been very tempted to bid for some large lots of vintage hats at the online Goodwill. You can’t really see the hats or their condition, so it’s a gamble, but I would enjoy discovering what mysteries one of those lots hold. Life is, after all, an adventure. Why not wear a stylish hat while you journey?
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.
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.
Of all the art fair hats I’ve bought, only the milliner of this one, Delores Pride, put her phone number in it. I haven’t called it—that was her phone number in the 90s, but it shows that this is a pre-internet hat. Now a hatmaker would likely put in a URL, or even a Twitter or Instagram handle.
I don’t know whether she still sews hats or not, but this is an especially well-made hat. The bow is on a pin for decorative flexibility, but she’s tacked it down to stay in place. So you can remove it if you like, but as long as it’s on the hat, it’s staying put and not curling or shifting.
The style is cute, too, sort of an adorned, slightly casual pillbox. So why haven’t I worn it for years?
The fabric. I loved it when I chose it, but to me, this hat’s fabric has not dated well. The tapestry look has not been in style for a while. If you don’t believe me, type “tapestry vest” into Etsy and see what wonders from the eighties and nineties come up. Also, though when I bought this hat, I thought of it as purple, in reality it has just as much beige as purple. Beige is the color (if you can call beige a color) that looks the worst on me.
I would probably still wear it often if I had simply chosen a different fabric.
I had a plan for wearing this hat…I was going to go wine tasting. The pattern is of grapes and leaves:
I thought it would be a nice fall hat, but I didn’t get to it this fall. No problem, I thought. I’ll wait till spring when the vines leaf out again. Of course, I didn’t count on every wine tasting room being closed.
So, instead of tasting, we drove out to a local winery for curbside pickup. They kindly let us walk around the grounds. If you have a favorite local business to support (be it winery, restaurant, auto shop, etc.) now is the time!
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I miss my friends. I see some virtually through zoom, text others, phone others, but it’s not the same. I miss seeing them at rehearsals and the gym and church. So, in the early days of the shelter in place order, I began to dream of throwing a party.
I had long planned that when I finished The Hat Project, I would have a gathering. I’d invite a bunch of people and ask everyone to wear a hat. For those who didn’t turn up in a hat, I’d provide some of mine to wear (My husband suggested that I let the guests take the hats home as party favors, but I simply laughed at that idea).
As is true of so many plans these days, I had to give up on the party…for now. But I find it comforting to start dreaming about what such a party would look like. It’s an act of hope. I’m not sure when a party will be possible (especially since some of my friends are in high risk categories), but I live in the hope that the days of parties will return. When that time comes, I can wear the Black Ring Hat and sequined tunic somewhere other than the backyard.
The first thing I did was order hat-shaped cookie cutters from an online cookie cutter store. I wasn’t sure whether a company like that would still be working, but a week after I placed it, I received a box from Missouri, full of cookie cutters: bowler, top hat, stocking cap, cowboy hat, and more. They came in various sizes, so I’m not sure I can use them all at the same time, but I’m looking forward to trying them out. Of course, I’ll have to wait until I have people to share them with…and until I can buy flour again.
Next, I started to fantasize about the music I would play: all songs about hats, that mention hats, or that have hats in the title. Maybe even a song by Men Without Hats or Foghat. Some occurred to me right away, like Lyle Lovett's "Don't Touch My Hat" and Prince's "Raspberry Beret." I started combing online lists of hat songs, and discovered many that I had never heard of. It was fun to play them. Some were kind of novelty numbers, such as Rhett & Link’s goofy but great “Nilla Wafer Top Hat Time.”
Of course, some of them weren’t appropriate for a party—for example, “Some Questions about Hats” by Slapp Happy, which was a bit avant garde. Though I liked the lyrics:
Can a hat aspire to higher things?
Can one dismiss hats as simple things?
Scant, evanescent things?
the song itself might not promote a party atmosphere:
And some were popular songs by more modern groups, like “Purple Hat” by Sofi Tukker. I'd never heard of this group, mostly because I have't listened to popular music for a long time:
I found hat songs I’d never heard by The Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, Jim Croce, Cyndi Lauper, The Kinks, Bob Dylan, Brian Eno and many others.
I might also include songs that mention hats, such as the standard “Tangerine” which describes the titular woman as having “mascaraed eyes and chapeau by Dache,” referring to Lilly Dache, the legendary milliner.
I have a list of thirty songs with the word hat or a type of hat in the title (Steely Dan’s “The Fez”) and another handful that mention hats prominently in the lyrics (The Temptations' “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”).
Will all these songs go together in a party situation? I don’t know. The Andrews Sisters next to Beck next to Bob Marley next to Merle Haggard? But it’s fun to dream about.
Next, I have my eye on a hat-shaped chip and dip set.
Got any other hat party ideas or songs to suggest?
When I turned forty, we gave a big party—Malaysian food, every novelty light string (chili peppers, bees, flamingos, Hawaiian shirts) draped around the house, my favorite chocolate orange almond cake. On the invitation, I specified no gifts, but my friend Sheila turned up with a hat box. In it was this hat—a beautiful creation in a nice, neutral straw that goes well with a colorful dress.
This hat and The White on White Hat were my two go-to hats for Easter for years (except last year, when I went with The Birthday Cake Hat). I've included a picture of me wearing it on Easter 2016.
That 40th birthday party was the first time we had given a really big party in our house: the kind where there aren’t enough seats for everyone to sit down at once and so many people are talking you can't hear the music. A friend remarked that she was seeing people she hadn’t seen since our wedding—the last big gathering we’d had. (Side note—my fortieth birthday outfit included the turquoise and green shoes I’m wearing in The Madame X Hat’s full body picture).
Though it was a much smaller gathering, until we left the Bay Area, my husband and I also hosted an annual Easter party. Sometimes we only had family; other times we had friends as well—anywhere from six to sixteen people. We always had an egg hunt. One of my brothers was the Easter Bunny, dying the eggs, arriving early to hide them, and providing the silly bunny-themed prizes. Many years I was the youngest participant. Not long ago, visiting some friends’ house, I noticed they still had the bunny cotton ball dispenser (you remove the cotton tail) they’d won years ago. Some other favorites—bowling for bunnies, where the pins were bunny shaped, a bunny that pooped jellybeans, and my pastel pink Koosh ball, which I took to work and was tossing with a coworker when the big Loma Prieta earthquake struck.
It seemed quite lonely this year with no church and just my husband and me for Easter. Though we no longer live so near our extended families, usually we can entice a family member or two to come. But we tried to make the occasion special, even under quarantine conditions. We listened to our church’s recorded service at the usual time, then Zoomed in for virtual coffee hour. I wore my hat there. We had a special dinner: salmon risotto and asparagus, followed by nectarine cobbler. We used our wedding china and had some roses picked from our yard on the table.
Because this hat always reminds me of good times, of family and friends, it seemed a good hat to wear this year. I wore it in memory of gatherings past, and in hope for gatherings in the future that are once again in person, instead of virtual.
It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been sheltering at home for three weeks now. It’s not that I never leave the house; I try to go for a walk every day. As extra motivation, I’ve started posting pictures from my walks on social media (to see them, check my Instagram account). And I’m fortunate that my husband is such good company, since he’s the only person I see.
Besides my walks, I’ve run a few errands in the last three weeks: to shop at the farmer’s market, to pick up takeout, to pump gas, to walk in the river park across town. Probably more places than I should go, but I’ve been trying to balance safety with getting food. I also wanted to spend a little money at the struggling restaurants in my town. Since we have a tourist-based economy, they are really hurting. Even if everyone in town bought takeout at their normal rate, it still wouldn’t be enough to support all of them, but of course, most people are eating in. Many of the restaurants are closed; I hope they reopen after the order is lifted. I’ve also bought some gift cards to support local retailers that had to shut. It seems so little I can do.
Because my work is always online, I haven’t had much of a shift in that area, but everything else has changed. Sitting in a restaurant and eating with a friend seems like such a luxury. Going to the theater, watching a concert, singing in a group, all seem distant recollections, like remembering the days before people wore bicycle helmets or cars had air bags. Movies showing people meeting in crowded restaurants, taking a standing-room only bus, flying on planes—they make my pulse race in panic as if they were horror movies. It’s hard for me to remember that I did all of those things less than a month ago.
Usually disasters bring communities together. After the Loma Prieta earthquake, I met all my apartment neighbors, including a man holding a scared chihuahua, as we congregated around a pool half-emptied by the earth's shaking. Now, though, the nature of the disaster separates us, and while after the earthquake everyone gathred to help each other, now the best way to help others is by staying home. It goes against our basic human need for connection.
However, my virtual social life is picking up. I’ve been able to go to virtual writers’ group meeting, virtual church coffee hour, and virtual meetup with my chorus members (no singing). Today’s hat is one I’ve worn for the Project before, The Sweaty Palms Hat. I wore this hat to virtual coffee hour this week.
We adapt. Before all this started, I only had about eight hats to go for The Hat Project. I had a rough schedule, arranging hats around the hat I wanted to wear on Easter and the last hat of the hat project. Now, I'm moving forward more slowly, and under different conditions than when I started this project, but I’m still moving forward. Sunday is Easter, the best hat holiday of the year. Though I can’t attend church in person or host a family dinner, I will still be wearing a hat.
As soon as I saw this hat, I thought, “This looks like a hat Boy George would wear.” It has that eighties vibe to me, though looking at the pictures of Boy George, I would say this hat is smaller through the brim and crown than his.
My friend Bonnie gave the hat to me, along with other hats including the White Crushed Velvet, Rhinestone, and Feather Hat when she moved. She had removed the hat's black band, intending to make it over. However, she never did so, and when she handed it off to me, it was plain.
I started wearing it with a sparkly pin on it. Here I am at a concert before Christmas, accessorizing it with a poinsettia pin.
I’ve also accessorized it with the fall-colored feather broach that I’m wearing with the Black Hat with Scarf. But I chose the yellow flower because I felt the multicolored jacket deserved something more pop art.
About the multicolored jacket: when I met my friend Karen for lunch before Christmas, she described going to thrift stores with her daughter, who likes to buy colorful vintage eighties clothes. We both laughed. Then we each confessed that we still owned an eighties jacket, massive shoulder pads and all, that we loved too much to let go. Hers was custom made by a seamstress from a fabric Karen selected. The jacket sounded very tasteful, except for the mile-high shoulder pads.
I, on the other hand, kept the wildest of my eighties jackets, black silk with neon hands. I probably bought it at Ross Dress for Less, where I bought most of my clothes then. Those of you who know me from that time period might recognize this jacket, because I loved it and wore it all the time, to work, to bars, out dancing. I always felt there was something Yellow Submarine-ish about it: the psychedelic colors, the hands! Of course, maybe I was just thinking of that nightmare-inducing flying glove from the movie.
I thought this eighties-looking hat was the perfect opportunity to bust out the eighties jacket. When I put on the jacket, I was awed anew at the sheer size of the shoulder pads.
For this blog, one of my goals from the start was to wear every hat out in public, not just while I took some pictures. The pandemic makes that a challenge, since occasions when I’m in public are rare now. I don’t want to get all dressed up to go to the grocery store or to pump gas. However, I’ve worn this hat in public on many other occasions, so I felt comfortable fudging that goal.
What I haven’t worn in pubic for decades is this jacket. I was relieved to just take a few pictures standing alongside the road instead of mingling. When our neighbor drove by, I was embarrassed, thinking that wearing an eighties jacket is OK if you’re young and cute (like Karen’s daughter), but if you’re my age, you just look like you don’t realize it went out of style.
On the other hand, maybe you just have to OWN IT!
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.