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 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.