Two weeks ago I was on a plane to the Seattle airport. My mother lives in that area, and I had planned a trip to help her with some tasks. At that time, the COVID-19 virus had had its biggest impact in that area. However, the California county where I live had not yet reported any cases, and the danger seemed minimal. We’d pass through the airport before traveling on to where my mom lives, which also had no cases then. I’d wipe down everything in my airplane seat area. I’d use hand sanitizer. I’d try not to touch my face.
I’d seen some social media posts depicting Seattle as a ghost town, so I was surprised my plane was nearly full. I was even more surprised that the bus I took from the airport was packed—standing room only. One or two people were wearing masks, including a woman across the bus aisle, who sported a cloth navy blue model (I wondered how she cared for it. Did she wash it every night?) The woman in the seat in front of me was eating a corn dog from a bag and occasionally coughing. With every cough, my neck stiffened.
I realized traveling in the time of coronavirus was a much worse idea than I’d though back in my unaffected home county. And I began to seriously worry that I might catch it and infect someone (especially my mother).
As my husband and stayed with my mom, the news got more and more alarming. Flights to Europe cancelled. No gatherings over 250, then 50, then 10. March Madness to be played before empty seats, then cancelled. I began to worry the airport might be closed or my return flight might be cancelled. I was in Washington under a week, but events unfolded so quickly it seemed like each day was five days.
Things that used to seem normal began to seem abnormal. People hugging friends. Standing in line near another person. A hotel serve-yourself breakfast buffet where people touched the same utensils to get food.
Things that used to seem weird began to seem normal. People wearing face masks. Waitresses sporting blue surgical gloves. Neighbors standing ten feet apart to talk.
The flight back had 27 people on it. Three people in first class, one in business. Here’s a look back down the plane before our takeoff.
I’ve never seen a flight so empty.
Because I’d been in Seattle, I stayed home when I returned, in case I’d caught the disease. Soon, however, the county, then the whole state was sheltering at home. So far, I feel fine (and so does my mother).
Sheltering at home means I can still go outside to walk or for necessary activities, such as getting food or medicine. What it doesn’t mean is going to places where wearing a black velvet pillbox is at all appropriate. So I’m not sure what I’ll do—whether The Hat Project will go on hiatus or if I’ll finish going through my hats, possibly more slowly. Like everyone else right now, I’m taking it day by day.
I hope you, my readers, are doing OK. Please take care of yourselves.
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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 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:
One year ago, I started The Hat Project. I thought it would be simple--wear a hat, take a picture, write a few words. And I thought I'd be done in a year, since I had about fifty hats. But, my hat collection grew. So, instead of finishing on this anniversary, I thought I'd celebrate by creating a clickable gallery of all the hats I've worn. I'll update it as I go, and link to it from the header page. So, if you want to make sure you haven't missed any of the hats, take a look.
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.