I was out of work.
For the first time in my professional life, I had quit one job without having another job lined up. As I wrote in The Black Cloche with Red Flowers, the company I worked for had been acquired, and given the option to work for the new company or take a severance package, I took the package. About a year prior, I'd been through a horrible acquisition, and I wasn't ready to repeat the process. I told myself that the job market was hot--I already had a few leads. I told myself that the severance would give me a cushion, see me through the rest of November and the holidays, and I'd easily get a job in the new year.
Then, the first day I woke up without a job, I panicked. The hours stretched before me, empty. After almost ten years of full-time employment, I didn't know what to do with myself. I worried, too, that I'd never get a job again.
I called up my older brother, who had been laid off in the past and found a new job. He talked me down. It would all work out. I'd find another job, he reassured me. I'd get used to not working.
He was right. I did get used to not working, and it didn't take me long. I spent the next two or three days lounging in bed reading. Just reading for days, the biggest luxury I could imagine. Though my then boyfriend (now husband) had also taken a severance package, he had accepted a month's temporary assignment as part of the transition. While I'd envisioned us spending some time together, I was also happy to read. I did some writing. I baked Christmas cookies, something I usually had no time for. The days passed quickly but quietly. I had some job nibbles, but no offers.
One day I went to a holiday craft boutique at Stanford. I was looking for Christmas gifts, but as sometimes happens to me, I found a hat instead. Brightly colored, made of soft velvet and satin, this hat attracted me on sight. But I dithered. Jobless, I knew I shouldn't spend the money.
"I love the hat, but I'm unemployed," I told the hat maker.
"Change you hat, change your luck," she answered.
I bought the hat. And by the new year, I had a job offer.
I can't honestly say my luck turned from bad to good, because I was lucky to be able to take a little time off, and I was lucky to get a job offer. But I was relieved.
A company called Netscape hired me. They were the first company to sell a popular web browser that allowed people to access the Internet in a user-friendly way. Most people at that time (me included), did not have access to the Internet at home. Many people didn't even own computers. And of course, smartphones were nonexistent. It's hard for me to envision that world now. Netscape employees would go to company meetings where the CEO would tell us the Internet was like the telephone. We just needed to get enough people on it and it would take off. More businesses would start having a web presence. At that time, relatively few businesses sold products over the web. Amazon was in its infancy and only sold books.
Netscape was a wild ride. A lot of people worked crazy hours there (they had a room full of futons if you pulled an all-nighter). But I managed to keep my perspective. For one thing, I couldn't work constantly because I wanted to spend time with my boyfriend.
At the last party for shipping a product at our old company, we'd danced together to a reggae band on a rooftop in downtown San Jose. Now that we were dating, we went to hear that band, Inka Inka, in a small club in San Jose. I wore this hat to the club and danced with him to the band again.
I had a beautiful hat, an exciting job, and a great boyfriend. I had extraordinary luck.
I met my husband on a job interview for a job I didn’t get. As the project lead of that group, he was one of the people interviewing me. Though that group didn’t hire me, they passed along my resume to another manager in the organization, who did hire me as a project lead in her group. So instead of working for my future husband, I became his peer. Since we would never have dated if he was leading my work, I’ve always been grateful I didn’t get the first job I interviewed for.
We had known each other for about a year before we started going out. At first, we kept the fact that we were dating quiet. Having seen many workplace romances become a source of gossip, especially when they didn’t work out, I didn’t want to be the subject of speculation. We didn’t leave the office together, or go out to lunch every day, or meet up in the coffee room accidentally on purpose.
However, after we had dated a few months, the company got acquired by another, bigger company. We had to decide whether to accept a job with the new company or take a severance package and look for a new job. Both of us decided to quit.
As a send-off before the acquisition, the department took a day trip—sailing from Santa Cruz to Monterey on a chartered sailboat, having lunch on the Monterey wharf, and returning to Santa Cruz in a limo. I wore this hat on that trip. Here's a picture of me in this art fair cloche taking the ship’s wheel with a look of nervousness and delight on my face (I kept thinking of the Gilligan’s Island theme).
For the first time on this trip, Russ and I were a bit more open about hanging out. After all, we would both be leaving the company soon. We sat next to each other at the group lunch. (A couple of people ordered lobster on the company dime, but as a vegetarian I contented myself with pasta).
The next day, back at the office, one of my coworkers commented that Russ and I had spent a lot of time together.
“We’re dating,” I told her, the first time I had said it aloud in the office.
“I thought you two would get together.”
I was surprised. Apart from anything else, I’d had a different boyfriend for part of my time at the company.
“You were single; he was single. I thought something would happen.”
If only it was that easy to find the right person, I remember thinking.
I feel incredibly lucky to have met my husband. Christmas is a time to remember your blessings, and he’s been the greatest blessing of my adult life. This picture is taken in his hometown, in Santa’s Sleigh on the main downtown street.
Wishing you happy holidays!
PS--In this close up of the hat, you can see that the flower decoration is a detachable pin. I've worn it on the Madame X Hat sometimes to jazz it up.
When I bought this hat, I thought I would wear it a lot. Like The Floppy Red Hat, it's a good hat for a cold but clear day, when you want your head warm but also need a bit of a sun shield. It was made by the same milliner who made The MVP Hat. At first, I wore this black velvet hat often, especially in colder conditions.
So, what happened? I made the mistake of wearing this hat at a particularly bad time of my life. I had tennis elbow in both arms and wore braces continually. My arms were weak and painful, and I wondered how much longer I could carry on working on a computer keyboard. One cool evening I wore this hat while doing yardwork. I was picking up the fruit that had fallen off our big Santa Rosa plum tree in our front yard.
We were buried in plums, unable to eat as many as we had, yet I still felt I had to bring them in the house, where the majority of them rotted on the counter before I could do anything with them. A miasma of fermenting fruit pervaded the house. The tree hung over the sidewalk, making a sticky, slippery mess. I raked up fruit and hosed off the cement so passersby wouldn't slip and fall. I lugged armloads of smelly, half-rotten plums in the garbage. My arms were killing me and I felt close to despair.
Of course, my situation improved. My arms got better with time and rest. A lady knocked on our door the following year and asked if she could trade flowers for our excess plums. She took them to make jam, and since she was a florist, gave me lilacs and gerbera daisies and Christmastime holly.
Yet, this hat still felt stained to me. Every time I looked at it, I remembered the dark time.
But when I started this blog, I said every hat.
I chose a particularly happy day to wear it again; a trip to the ocean with my visiting mother. And, we went to see sea otters, which I often do when feeling down. They are a sure-fire mood lifter. You can see them in the first picture, blurred out lumps in the ocean behind me.
So now I can look at this hat, remember otters, and smile. And, in case you need cheering up, here's an otter video I took that day.
It didn’t start out this way. I saw this cute hat at an art fair. I really loved the fabric—even though it was a basic bucket shape, I thought the fabric made it look more sophisticated. (Though it’s reversible to a beige fabric, as with my other reversible hat, I only wear my favorite side). I used to wear this hat at a jaunty angle with a pair of dangly earrings.
But then, one day I was having a bad hair day. Maybe I didn’t blow dry it right or I bedheaded it taking a nap. And I thought, “I’ll hide it with a hat.”
This hat, because it covers so much of my hair, seemed perfect.
And it was.
It’s like one of those sad movies, where the aspiring artist can’t sell her serious work but discovers a knack for advertising art. Or the musician is born to play classical music, but the crowd loves show tunes. This hat was meant for so much more, but it’s such a great bad hair day hat that I forget to wear it otherwise.
“Nice hat!” someone will say.
“Bad hair day,” I sometimes reply. But other times I just smile and say, “Thanks!”
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.
Back to The Hat Project main page.
I bought this gray beaded hat at an art fair many years ago. It was made by Jax Hatz San Francisco. Because it covered my ears and wouldn't blow off, I wore this hat a lot while driving my convertible. I also wore it after top-down driving, especially if I had worn a ball cap—this hat hid hat hair nicely.
As the hat has seemed to loosen up over the years, I have worn it less often. I also find myself driving top-down less than I used to. Maybe that’s the loosening up in me, a laziness that doesn’t want to take down and put up the manual top, a skittishness about getting a headache from too much sun.
In this picture, I’m posing before the Carrizo Plains wildflowers—we didn’t travel top down because the rutted dirt roads would challenge my low slung car (and the dust would coat the interior). I put the hat on for the shots, and then was glad of its warmth when the wind came up as the day went on. I remembered why I had always loved this hat: it’s comfortable, neutral yet slightly blingy, and cozy around the ears.
Here are some old pictures of my travels in this hat: In Monterey in 2001 and driving the coast in 2011:
This week I wore another hat that I’ve never worn before, but this time more than timidity kept me from wearing it.
I bought this hat at an outdoor art fair on a warm summer day. I got the feeling that the young lady selling the hats hadn't been at it long. “Do you have a bag for it?” I asked. She looked puzzled, regretful, as if she’d never considered that someone might want a bag (note—this hat dates from the days when all retail establishments and art fair vendors gave out bags).
So I took the hat without a bag. My husband offered to go into a nearby store and see if he could buy one, but I said, “No, that’s OK.” Big mistake. As we walked through the art fair, my hands got sweaty. I held the hat gingerly at the back, but when we got home, I noticed that my sweaty palms had discolored the back of the hat. I was upset with myself for not just getting a bag from somewhere, anywhere, and upset at the hat seller for being so unprepared.
I wasn’t sure if the hat was made from a washable material—from the way it discolored as I held it, I doubted it. It might even be of acetate. Once I tried to wash an acetate dress and it turned into a stiff shriveled lump.
Honestly, I knew the stain wasn’t too bad. But it was noticeable, and it was a brand new hat, dammit!
So I put it in a box.
Looking for a different hat I thought I might wear, I opened the box and found this one in there too. I still liked it. And though I knew the hat was discolored, it was no more discolored than some of my vintage hats, to be honest. So I decided to wear it.
This hat initially attracted me because it reminded me of the hats worn by members of my favorite swing trio, Cats & Jammers (sadly, now defunct, though you can still buy their recordings). I decided to wear it to church on a Sunday I was singing with the choir in front of the congregation. That way, I would both honor the musical inspiration for buying the hat and, since no one would be sitting behind me, hide the discolored back. After the service someone said I was “rocking” the hat. I thought that was an appropriate term.
I can’t play guitar or bass fiddle, like the women in Cats & Jammers, so posing with my ukulele was as close as I could get.
Brightly lit picture showing the discoloration that I hope isn't too noticeable in dimmer lighting.
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.