"Are you going to buy a hat while you're in England?"
The question first came up when I was buying the black hat with pearls. While I was chatting with the antique store owner, I told her I was going with my chorus to England in the summer.
“Oh, you need to buy a hat while you’re there,” she said. “They have the best hats! Whole stores that sell nothing but hats!”
“How would I get a hat home?’ I said, shaking my head.
She looked at me like I was crazy. “It’s the BEST PLACE to buy a hat.”
“I guess I could wear it home on the plane.” I imagined one of those Ascot-sized hats crowding my neighbors in a coach seat.
“Yes, or put it in your carry on,” she answered.
She was serious, I realized. To her, if you liked hats and went to England, it was a criminal waste not to buy a hat.
Later, while I was talking with the director of our chorus (I’d shown up to her recital wearing the woven ribbon hat), she said, “We should go hat shopping in Bath. We should get Bath hats.”
“How would I get a hat home?”
She looked at me like I was crazy.
Most of my hats are supremely impractical. They’re fragile. They don’t shade my eyes or keep my head warm. So I think everyone was surprised that I took such a practical approach to hat acquisition. But, imagining a hat box bouncing against my side as I ran for a plane, and how I’d worry that even in a box it would be crushed in an overhead bin, I couldn’t see that transporting a hat from England would be fun. And I didn’t want to ship it. If I bought a hat, I wanted to wear it while in England. then when would I find time to ship it home myself?
However, all these conversations got me thinking. As part of the tour, we were scheduled to have a cream tea in Bath. That might be the perfect time to bust out a hat, whether purchased there or carried from home. I started to look on buying and/or wearing a hat in England as more of an opportunity than a burden.
As the trip got closer and more people asked me about my hat plans, my answer changed. Asked if I was going to bring a hat, I said, “I’ll bring the hat I always bring while traveling. And, maybe a little vintage one for tea.”
“Ooh, a hat for tea!”
My answer about buying a hat also changed. Instead of an instant refusal, my standard answer became, “Maybe a little fascinator. Something easy to transport.”
In the end, I packed a little vintage hat in case I didn’t have time to shop or didn’t find a hat I liked, so I could wear a hat to tea. And I hatched a plan to shop for a hat in Bath. I had a fantasy—I’d go to a thrift or vintage store and find a little vintage hat, maybe a ring hat or a simple cap small enough to slip into my luggage. I figured so many people wore hats in England, their supply of used hats would be good.
Because we had free time in Bath, I scouted thrift stores, vintage stores, and hat stores online. I found a vintage store that was close to our hotel and sounded fabulous. I also located a hat shop in the neighborhood. I marked a map and was ready when we arrived in the city. However, when I looked up the address of the perfect vintage store I’d selected, I noticed for the first time that it was closed on Mondays. And wouldn’t you know, our only day in Bath was a Monday.
After our morning Bath walking tour, my husband and I went by the vintage clothing store (tucked into an alley) and though it looked amazing, it was, as advertised, closed. We passed a secondhand shop that was also closed.
But the hat store was open, a little cave of treasures. The store arranged the hats by color, so it was like walking into a rainbow. I told the shopkeeper that I was after a small hat I could fit into my suitcase. She told me to avoid the ones with “quills” as the long feathers didn’t travel well, but that the little feathery bits on long stems would spring back if compressed.
I tried on some blue hats, though I already have several. I was also drawn to a lovely leaf green one the size of a turkey platter. “Small,” I reminded myself. “Small.”
At the front of the store was a rack of small fascinators on hair bands (or, as the shopkeeper called them “Alice bands.”) The smallest hats in the store. I tried one on and found that even the smallest hat made an impact. I bought this red one.
I wore it back to the hotel, then to tea. Though it wasn’t quite the vintage hat of my vision, I was still living the hat dream. And snuggled into a box, padded by extra socks, the hat made it home just fine in my suitcase. Why had I worried so much about transportation? I must have been crazy. Next time, I'm not only buying a hat, I'm buying a bigger one.
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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.