I have so many hat boxes, most with multiple hats in them, that when I want a hat, I have to go looking for it. In searching for the green feathered hat, I opened a box to find one lone black hat resting inside.
Usually, when I come upon a hat, I think “Oh, right, that one.” But I had no memory of this hat. Not of buying it, or being given it, or wearing it. The box was from the 90’s, so the hat might date from that decade too.
Looking more closely, I sort of recognized the ribbon around the brim. Really, it’s a nice bow. A quality hat—made by the Bollman Hat Company, the oldest hatmaker in the US. Since it’s black on black, though, no burst of color makes it memorable.
Also, the hat seems vaguely Western—as if it could be worn by a saloon gambler. A few years ago, I moved from an urban area to a semi-rural town where you might see a woman in the Rite-Aid wearing a cowboy hat, boots, and turquoise jewelry. Though the town attracts wine tourists, it also has a cow-town vibe, in its livestock at the mid-state fair, it’s annual tractor parade, and its plethora of “Eat beef. The West wasn’t won on salad” bumper stickers. I haven’t eaten beef in over 20 years. I can’t pretend to be anything but a city slicker, and shouldn't even try.
Cow mural downtown.
So: A Western-style black hat with a black ribbon? What was I thinking?
Here’s what I speculate happened. One day, on a department store clearance table, I came upon this hat. Though it didn’t call to me, it was probably a bargain. And looking at its basic black color scheme, I probably thought, “This hat will be so practical! I can wear it with anything!” and bought it.
Well, from my previous post, you know that I eventually learned to steer clear of the merely practical. If an article of clothing doesn’t appeal to my sense of fun and style, it sits in the drawer or box, unworn. Forgotten.
So I took this hat out, brushed it with my lint brush, and wore it. I didn’t feel like I was wearing anything unusual, or magical. It wasn’t the ruby slippers. It was just a hat that didn’t seem “me.” When I wore it to church, someone said, "I love your hats! Especially the one you wore last week, with the feathers." I wasn't alone in finding this hat forgettable.
Here's my city-slicker outfit, including a leopard-print skirt and boots from Macy’s, not the local Boot Barn.
When I started this project, I told myself that I would donate any hat that I didn’t want after wearing it. This is the first contender I’ve found. Of course, my track record at letting go of hats is pretty dismal, so we’ll see.
By the way, if any of my friends reading this blog remember me wearing this hat (or remember passing it along to me), let me know!
In Part 1, I wrote about the first two of my Parkhurst wool hats. I bought a cranberry red one on a day trip, and a gray one on vacation in Mendocino.
I bought this blue cloche in the same Mendocino store. (BTW, in researching this blog, I noticed that Parkhurst’s web site still sells this hat, though not in this color).
It was like a ritual. Go someplace fun, buy a hat there. As I wrote in my first post, hats, for me, have a certain magic, as if they are not part of ordinary life. So, when I’m on vacation, I’m already out of ordinary life. A hat seems as natural as ruby slippers in Oz.
Most of my hats came from thrift stores, antique stores, and art fairs, so they are often old or unique. One of the reasons I’ve been so bad at wearing all my hats is that I’ve lacked the confidence—you have to have confidence to wear an old-fashioned hat when few people you know wear ANY kind of hat, not to mention one that has green and yellow feathers. Because I bought these wool hats new, in hat stores, I have never had any qualms about wearing them. Though not common (at least in coastal California) they aren’t outlandish. And they are especially easy to wear while vacationing, as I am in this picture from Mendocino in 2006.
I enjoyed wearing my wool hats; I didn’t feel like I needed any more.
Then, one day, I was doing a reading in an art gallery in a small wine country town near Sebastopol. I often arrive early to events and then must kill time to avoid appearing gauche and overeager. I ducked into a boutique. And there, I found one more Parkhurst hat I couldn’t resist—similar in shape to the blue one, but more elaborate, and in a lilac color I associated with spring, not winter.
And now when I wear that lilac wool hat, I remember that day, the beautiful weather, the fun reading, the little town tucked in the rolling hills, the out-of-the-way wineries we visited the next day. And I also remember wearing this hat walking in the snow at my parents' house, and dancing outdoors in the city park on New Year’s Eve, and going through a Victorian Christmas lights display. I didn’t need it, but I’m glad I bought it.
That’s the thing about my hats. They carry their own sense of occasion, accumulating meaning to me as I wear them. And they're fun. They're the technicolor bit of Oz you can bring home from vacation to your black-and-white daily life.
After wearing some easy wool hats, I decided to tackle wearing a hat I’d never worn before—this green feathered hat.
I bought it years ago in a consignment store. At the time, I had a vision of finding the perfect vintage dress to go with it, and perhaps wearing it on Halloween, as I did my first hat. I put the hat in the box and went hunting through vintage clothing stores. I never found a dress that I thought would match the hat, which was probably a good thing, because in my mind, this hat was wild, bright lime green and neon yellow. So I was surprised, years later, when I looked at the hat again and found it (especially the velvet bow in the front) more olive than lime. I’d had an olive jacket in my closet the whole time.
I not only lacked a matching dress, I also lacked the courage to wear this hat. For a long time, I only wore the hats I bought new, because I was afraid I would look ridiculous in the vintage hats. Even when I started wearing a few of my vintage hats, they tended to be small black or brown ones.
It took courage for me to walk into church wearing parrot plumage on my head. And one person did (with a smile) call me Birdie. But many people also told me how much they enjoyed my hats—and this hat in particular. It made me realize that the vintage hat did make me look ridiculous, but only because it took me a ridiculously long time to wear it.
Front and back views
Since some of my hats are going to be hard to find an outfit (or an occasion) for, after the first hat I'm tackling some of the easiest: my wool hats.
Also, I need to wear them before winter is over.
I have four wool hats that I think are from the same maker, Parkhurst. I can't be sure, because the first one I bought is reversible, and so has no tag on it. I’ve had it so long, its origin is lost in the mists of time, but I think I might have bought it on a trip to Jack London Square, in Oakland. (Among the many things to like about Oakland is that they have a waterfront square named after a writer!) This hat is also one of my most well-traveled. It’s been to the Argentinian Andes, among other places.
I’ve owned a few pieces of reversible clothing over the years, and I always go through the same process. Seeing the item, I say: “How wonderful! It will be so practical--two in one!” Yet, when it comes to wearing it, I like one side so much better that I never wear the reverse. Such is the case with this hat—I only remember wearing the more cloche-shaped reverse side once. In fact, even when I took pictures with the reverse side, I didn't like it, so I'm not posting a picture.
Practicality can never make me like something better. I'll settle for it, but the merely practical doesn't catch my imagination. For example, my first car was a four-door sedan. Easy to drive people around in. Plenty of trunk space (I had such a small apartment I habitually stored my champagne glasses in the car's trunk). I was happy with it, but it never caught my imagination. When I got a Miata, though, I fell in love. Not at all practical, but so fun.
This gray wool hat with the velvet band I bought on vacation in Mendocino. I found this hat in the local hat store, hemmed and hawed because it was on the expensive side for me at the time, but eventually bought it. It was worth it, because it goes with everything—even a wild coat! It's not reversible, it's versatile.
Versatile is not the same as practical. Few of my hats are practical (even these wool ones, since I don't live in a cold climate). They are mostly for fun. I can wear this gray hat, for fun, under many circumstances. Forget being practical. Life is short. Enjoy the hat.
The story of the first hat I ever bought begins with a dress.
When I was in high school, my best friend Michelle and I were preparing to go to a Halloween party and needed costumes. It was the big party for the performing arts club. As a freshman, I’d gone as a gangster, wearing a man’s suit, carrying a false cigarette, and even drawing a charcoal mustache on my upper lip.
I thought it was a great costume. Creative. I was barely recognizable! Strangely enough, though, no boys sought me out. I felt out of place and slipped outside periodically to kill time before my ride came.
The next year, when Michelle and I brainstormed costumes, she rejected my suggestions. “We want costumes we look cute in,” she said, explaining, as she often had to, the simplest facts of how to get on socially. “Let’s look through my aunt’s old dresses.”
Her aunt must have been quite fashionable, because Michelle had a cache of fancy party dresses from the 1950s. They carried labels from dressmakers, not department stores. Michelle tried on a strapless tea-length blue dress with a huge skirt. “I can be Cinderella,” she said. She passed me a brown one with a filmy, uneven hem, as if scarves had magically swirled together to make a dress. I tried it on. It fit me as if it had been made for me, and I loved the way the skirt fluttered as I walked.
“Perfect,” she said.
It wasn’t a princess dress. It was sophisticated. I wore it to the party and had a much better time than I had the previous year, though that might have had more to do with being older and having more friends. I still didn’t have the courage to dance to “The Time Warp” and “Rock Lobster," though.
When I tried to return the dress, Michelle told me to keep it (I still have it!).
Later that year, as I was poking around a thrift store, I found a hat almost the same color as the dress—a 1950’s hat of satin and net. Now I had a complete costume. Over the next few years, through college and beyond, I wore the dress and the hat on Halloween. When people asked who I was, I told them I was June Cleaver.
One year, I went to try on the dress and discovered I could no longer zip it up. My days of dressing as Mrs. Cleaver were over.
The hat, though. The hat still fit me.
After I bought that first hat, I always looked for hats in thrift stores, and if they were cheap enough and in good condition, I bought them. I never wore them. I just liked them. Sometimes I’d take out the boxes where I stored my small collection and try them on. Those old hats from the 50’s always made me feel sophisticated, just like the dress had. People in old movies always wore nice clothes and hats, and for me, hats retained some of that glamour. They belonged to that cinematic world where people dressed in evening clothes and drank cocktails. When I tried on the hats I felt, just for a few minutes, as if I could be part of that world too.
For this blog, I'm trying to wear every hat I own, so I thought it was only fitting to start the blog with the first hat. I'll be wearing most of the dressy hats to church, and that's where I wore this one. Since I couldn't wear the dress, I paired it with a shiny jacket.
I started collecting hats in high school, buying them at thrift stores. As time went on, I bought some new at department stores and art fairs, purchased more at antique stores, inherited my grandmother’s hats, and received many as gifts. When people discover I wear hats, they give me more hats, wanting them to go to someone who will appreciate them.
A few years ago I counted all my hats (not including stocking caps and baseball caps) and I had around fifty. And I’ve only added more.
Many of them I have never worn. Oh, lately I’ve made a push to wear a few to church, but the vast majority I haven't worn for years, if ever.
Recently, I decided to change that. I decided to wear every hat in my collection. Not just try them on and take a picture, but actively wear the hat, whether to the beach or to church.
I’m calling this attempt The Hat Project. I’ll be blogging about it as I go, writing posts about the hats, their histories, and what they mean to me.
Its an autobiography in hats.
A fraction of my collection. Every one of these boxes still has hats in it, and I have more boxes still in the closet.
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.