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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I don't drink coffee. I don't LIKE coffee.
I'm a tea drinker.
Since I no longer drink caffeine, I start every morning with what my husband calls my "placebo tea," an aromatic cup of decaf Earl Grey. Why would anyone want bitter coffee?
Some of my earliest tea memories are of drinking instant chamomile tea (it came in dissolvable squares!) on rainy days, listening to John Denver albums. Or my mother would make fresh mint tea from the peppermint she grew in patio pots. In high school I'd occasionally drink tea from a fancy bone china cup and feel like a grown-up lady.
By the time I went to college in Berkeley, my new go-to tea was jasmine, the more flowery the better. Despite the plethora of available coffee houses, at first I only drank tea at home. Because coffee houses always seemed so sophisticated to me, I don't think I set foot in one my whole freshman year at college. That's where the real intellectuals went, I was sure. The city dwellers. Not the suburbanites like me who grew up on a steady diet of Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. In those pre-Starbucks days, I didn't know of one coffee house in my hometown.
Eventually, though, I made friends with a bunch of other English majors and aspiring writers who loved coffee houses. My friends and I would go to cafes and discuss how much we hated or loved James Joyce. Most of my black-clad writer friends would have coffee, but I'd have Jasmine or Earl Gray, and hopefully a slab of shortbread. I think longingly of those cafes, each with its own personality. The Cafe Roma with its globe lights and sorority sisters ordering lattes. The Cafe Intermezzo, where every time I came in, a man was sitting at the same table, reading Proust. The Caffe Med (short for Caffe Mediterraneum) the old beatnik and free speech hangout that my manual-typewriter-loving poet friend haunted. Dustin Hoffman sat in the Caffe Med in The Graduate. Sadly, from a quick Google search, it seems none of these cafes are open anymore. It's like finding out that old friends have died.
Even now, when I have lots of pages of writing to edit, I go to a local independent coffee house where I can order a pot of loose tea and a scone or slice of coffee cake. Tea drinking in a cafe now means the love of ideas, of literature, of writing and striving to do my best work as an artist. I've staked a claim to the intellectual coffee house.
Tea shops, as opposed to coffee houses, have a whole different vibe. As a rule, few men venture inside these shops' flowery interiors, where ladies go to have exquisite petite fours and tiny lemon tarts. Whereas my college writing friends and I met in coffee houses to discuss literary giants, going to tea with a woman friend is a more personal experience. Meeting a friend for tea means a good conversation about the important emotional issues in life: significant others, children, pets, aging parents, health issues. For as much as it's important to discuss art, it's equally important to discuss life. And, though as a young woman I hesitated to go into a coffee house, I've always felt I could go to a tea shop. Put on a nice dress and prepare to scoop on the clotted cream. Though it takes intellectual confidence and knowledge to complain about John Updike, all it takes to converse in a tea shop is a heart for life, and I've always had that.
Recently, I met my friend Kate at a local tea shop. Kate also loves hats and has a collection large enough to outfit an entire Gilbert and Sullivan production in period finery. Since she's an actress and singer, she often provides her own hats for roles, as Eulalie Mackcknie Shinn in Music Man, as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Kate and I made a pact to wear hats and meet for tea (and yes, that is a Princess Di plate in the background).
The white hat I'm wearing was a gift from another friend, Bonnie, who gave me the green and purple hats as well as chose my Forties JewelTones Hat.
This hat is beautifully detailed. It has large and small rhinestones surrounded by intricate feather curlicues.
Over the years it's acquired some condition issues. I think the glue the milliner used yellowed over time, and the long feather looks a little sparse. But, I'm not free from condition issues myself, and this hat is a decade older than I am. It's a comfortable hat to wear. In particular, it has no veil, so nothing interfered with my consumption of tea treats!
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My friend Karen has an Etsy store where she sells vintage items, so she's always going to thrift stores and estate sales. Sometime before Christmas she let me know that she had a hat for me, which she described as "unusual." I felt a mix of anticipation and worry. I've seen some truly odd hats over the years, but I told myself Karen wouldn't get me anything horrible.
When I met her around Christmastime, she gave me two hats: the Dreamy, Romantic Hat from her personal collection and this mod bubble hat. Unusual is a good word for it. When I started this project, I might have shrunk from wearing it. But my main thought when I tried it on was "What a wonderful, unique sixties hat!" I was undeterred by my husband saying it looked like I was wearing spaghetti on my head.
Bubble hats are similar to pillboxes, but with a rounder shape. Here's Doris Day wearing a bubble hat in Lover Come Back, her 1961 movie with Rock Hudson:
Seeing this picture, my husband said she looked like she had Jiffy Pop on her head. (BTW, I got this image from a great post about her movie hats in the blog Between Naps on the Porch. This hat is not the wildest!).
You can see this bubble hat's shape is cousin to other large sixties pillboxes, such as My Grandmother's Navy Pillbox. All these hats were designed to perch on the head, so as not to crush the lovely bouffant hairdo.
Here's a closer look at the hat:
This hat has something both mod and boho about it, as if it's looking forward to the coming hippie years. Someone at church asked me if it was macrame, but it's just woven, stiffened (or artificial) jute (?) with an orange ribbon accent and a brown border so close to my hair color that it's hard to see in these pictures.
I own hardly any orange clothing, yet I managed to find a tunic that I felt fit this hat's mod sensibility. Here's an outfit shot, which also gives you a different view of the hat's shape:
Seeing the picture of Doris Day, maybe I shouldn't have worn the hat so far back. I think it was lower when I initially put it on, but the hat was so tall I kept knocking it askew as I got in and out of the car. Cars must have had more headroom when ladies wore hats!
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Before Christmas, I met my friend Karen for lunch. Karen runs an Etsy store, Lion and Lamb Vintage, so she's always on the lookout for cool vintage items. She showed up with a shopping bag of gifts for me, including a vase I had admired in her store and a vintage dress (sadly, not my current size, but if I lose some weight...). She also included a couple of hats: a vintage one that she had described as "unusual" (more about that one later) and this black hat with a pink flower bow.
"I used to wear it every year on Christmas Eve," she said.
"Why don't you keep it and wear it this Christmas?" I suggested. Hats are fun. I think everyone should get the pleasure of wearing them more often than they do, so I try to encourage hat wearing.
But Karen was firm. "I want you to have it."
To be honest, this hat is not in my usual style. There's something romantic and dreamy about that pink flower, something Stevie Nicks-ish. I have never seen myself as especially girly, despite my interest in clothes and hats. Though I was not exactly a tomboy growing up, my two older sisters were so much older than I was that they were wearing makeup and miniskirts while I was still dressing Barbies. My three brothers were closer to me in age, so I was more likely to wrestle with them than try on lipstick with my sisters. I still have a bit of a reflexive feeling that fashions that are too lacy, frilly, or flowery are not for me.
Also, having seen my wardrobe in these blog pictures, you can imagine I was scratching my head about what to wear to match the bow's muted, tasteful sage green and rose. Muted and tasteful does not describe most things in my closet!
However, recently I nabbed this multicolored embroidered sweater/coat. And I remembered a fashion lesson I learned long ago--instead of being hard to match, multicolored clothing matches everything. Sure enough, that sage green and dusty rose both appeared in this coat. And together...well, you know when an outfit feels good? That's how I felt walking around a beach town in this coat and hat. Like I'd nailed it. Even the flower felt right--a small bit of girlishness I could claim for my own.
Though I know the hat is meant to be worn with the decoration in the back, I couldn't resist turning it around. I confess I like to see a hat's frou frou when I look in a mirror. So here's a closeup of the hat with the bow in front.
In the photo at the top of the blog, I'm snapping pictures of surfers. Here's one of the shots I took, to close out a dreamy day at the beach:
This mini bowler is the last of the three hats I got from my friend Sheila's downsizing neighbor. The other two were the Brown Hat with Brown Velvet Bow and the Gray Mini Top Hat. I had my doubts about what to call the top hat, but this hat is clearly a bowler. See how much it looks like a tiny version of the one in the classic Lucky Charms box? (And why do leprechauns so often wear bowlers?)
All three of these hats are distinguished more by shape than by fancy decorating. They are monochromatic, with ribbon trims matching the hat bodies. Yet each has some nice details. On this hat, the ribbon band's bow has an interesting fold and the veil has a windowpane pattern.
People at church are becoming inured to my hats. This Sunday, no one mentioned the hat, though a few people commented on my Black Watch plaid jacket and my brooch. Or maybe this hat is so subtle the showy brooch outshone it.
I got the brooch at a consignment store. As soon as I started looking at it, the sales clerk offered me a discount. Apparently it had been sitting in the store for a while with no interest, but I loved it. (I often find this situation--that I love what others don't want to buy). The brooch was in perfect condition, too.
Unfortunately, it no longer is perfect. One time when I was wearing it to the theater, I lost it. I became ill during the performance, and while I was sitting on the fountain in front of the Center for Performing Arts waiting for my husband to bring the car around, I took off my jacket and the brooch fell off. Into the fountain. I was far too sick to think about it.
I told my husband about the lost brooch a few days later, and he went back and fished it out of the fountain using mechanical fingers. Between the days spent under three feet of water and the scratches from the wiry mechanical fingers, the brooch is no longer pristine. But I love it all the more because it reminds me of my sweet husband performing a rescue while I was too sick to do so.
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Some people love Valentine’s Day—the roses, the romantic dinners, the stuffed bears holding hearts. Some people hate Valentine’s Day—the jacked up rose prices, the crowded restaurants, the stuffed bears holding hearts.
I’ve always liked Valentine’s Day, but with a caveat: for me, it celebrates all kinds of love, not just romantic love.
When I was a girl, my mother always baked us kids special extra-large heart shaped cookies. She decorated them with fancy frosting frills and piped our names on them. She had six kids, and she took pains to make each one different—a white border on a pink cookie with a red name on one, a white background sprinkled with red sugar and bordered in red on another. Those cookies were special, one-of-a-kind and made with love. Plus, they were delicious!
In high school, student clubs would raise money by delivering pink and red valentine’s carnations to students. I never got one from a boyfriend, but friends would send them to each other, celebrating love of friends, long before Galentine’s day existed.
The love of family and friends buoyed me up, even in those years when I didn't have a Valentine's date, such as the year I spent Valentine's Day at the movie theater alone, watching Pulp Fiction.
These days, my husband and I usually opt for a quiet Valentine’s Day. Often I’m working in the evening, so we have lunch out. If I’m not working, we usually have gourmet takeout; something neither of us has to cook. We long ago stopped trying to go out for fancy dinners, fighting the Valentine's Day hordes. The first year after we moved we were still unpacking and went out for pizza. Another year we did a bunch of my favorite things during the day: watched the sea otters, went to the monarch butterfly grove, ate pie. This year, my ukulele club is spreading a little love by playing at an eldercare facility's lunch on Valentine's Day, so my husband and I will go out for breakfast.
I’ve always been lucky to feel lots of love around me, even when I didn’t have a romantic partner. And what could be better than a holiday about expressing your love to everyone?
So happy Valentine’s Day from the Hat Project! In these pictures I’m wearing a red velvet hat that came from the collection of hats that included the brown wool hat, the red Breton, the black hat with scarf, and the embellished white pillbox. I saved this one red hat from the Christmas red-hat-a-palooza for this occasion.
May all of you have a happy day. I love you, readers!
As I wrote in The Blue and Purple Hat with the Blue Feather, around Easter last year, when I had just started The Hat Project, I decided I wanted a new hat. I found a black hat I really liked, and it had one cent shipping (as I mentioned before, with Goodwill hats, often the shipping costs more than the hat).
I liked the black hat for itself, but also because it reminded me of a hat I didn’t buy in the past. Once, during my habitual trek to the antique store near my in-laws' house, I had seen a blue velvet hat with a similar shape. When I tried it on, it looked good on me. But I thought the price was a little high. Also, I had a hat moratorium. No more hats, I told myself—especially since I never wore most of them. So I let it get away.
Many times I have said no to a hat and forgotten it by the next day. But some hats linger in my memory, and I regret not buying them. The next time I was in town, I looked for that blue velvet hat, but it was gone. (I blogged about a similar experience in the same store with an antique mirror).
So when I saw the similar black hat in an online auction at shopgoodwill.com, I bid.
I was instantly outbid. I bid again. The same thing happened. I realized that someone had put in an automatic bid to outbid anyone up to a certain price.
An online Goodwill hat auction is a risk, because you can’t see the hat in person and don’t have an accurate assessment of the condition. Therefore, I was only willing to go so high on a hat that could have stains or a torn veil. Someone else was willing to go higher. I conceded defeat. I let it get away again and bought the blue and purple hat instead.
I often look at hats for sale online; I find it soothing. Though that blue and purple hat slaked my desire for a new hat, a couple of weeks later, I was browsing the Goodwill online hat listings again. And there it was—the same black hat. Whoever had outbid me had not ponied up the cash by the deadline, so that hat was for sale again.
I couldn’t let it get away another time. Even though there was no one cent shipping, I bid. This time, I was the only bidder, ensuring that the hat was within my price range, even with shipping costs. And when the hat arrived, it had no major condition issues (yay!).
As soon as I got this hat, I had a vision of wearing it with my leopard print coat. So, I waited all summer. When cooler weather arrived, I tried it on with the coat and was not blown away as I had expected to be. I didn’t rush to wear the outfit. Christmas (and its flurry of red hats) came and went. Then, looking to spend some Christmas money, I found a gold lamé coat in a local antique shop. I had absolutely no need for the coat. I told myself not to buy it. But I kept thinking about it, so later that week I went back to the store and took it home.
It is a very 1950s coat. The label says “Vogue Special Design,” which was a line of patterns put out by Vogue that included labels home seamstresses could sew into their finished garments. That seamstress could have chosen any fabric, but she opted for gold lamé, rhinestone buttons, and a (I think) fake fur collar. A woman after my own heart.
So here I am, wearing the hat that (almost) got away and the coat I didn’t let get away.
For some reason, gold lamé doesn't seem to photograph well. Here is a picture of the coat that is more true to the color, though you can't see the shape as well since it's unbuttoned:
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“I like that one!” a woman said as she scooted into the pew behind me.
I agreed. In fact, when the friend of a friend of a friend offered me her mother’s hats, sending along a less-than-stellar cellphone picture, this white hat was the one that I was most excited and curious about. (The photo was so bad, one hat I took to be cello straw turned out to be velvet). I couldn’t quite tell this white hat's shape or material, but I loved the little embellishments. When I got the collection, which also included the Brown Wool Hat, the Red Breton, and the Black Hat with Scarf, I finally got a closer look at the hat. The milliner sewed on pearls and some long thin beads that were probably silver originally but tarnished over the years.
The veil is in excellent shape, though it’s one of those long veils I’m never quite sure how to wear. For it to lie correctly it seems like I have to tie it. Yet, unwilling to harm the veil, I always tie it very loosely; it inevitably comes untied. I have other hats coming up with the same kinds of veils, so perhaps I’ll learn some tricks for wearing them before I wear them. Suggestions welcome!
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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.