I recently helped a chorus friend (also named Ann) clean out her sister’s possessions after her passing. “If you see anything you want,” she said generously, “just take it.” As I was helping her empty one clothes closet, the other chorus members working in the house marched ceremoniously into the room, bearing a small hatbox. Knowing I love hats, they presented it to me.
The box was old. Whatever was inside had obviously held sentimental value to my friend’s sister. I opened it up and found, not a hat, but another special item of millinery (which I will be covering in a future post). After trying it on, I noticed the box contained something else, something blue satin folded in the bottom.
When I took it out, I discovered that the blue satin was the inside of another hat. The outside was white satin studded with beads. It intrigued me. Was it one of those fashionable turbans from the late sixties/early seventies, such as Elizabeth Taylor was famous for wearing?
However, when I tried it on and ran to a mirror, it looked more like a toque—in fact, it looked like a bejeweled chef’s hat.
So what was it?
I started a research game I called Turban or Toque, googling images of vintage hats (and discovering something called a "turban toque" which further confused me). I got out my hat reference book. Perhaps it was neither—maybe it was a tam? It wasn’t knit, and it was a little too floppy, but it did have the basic shape, the band, and a knot of beads on top in place of the pompom.
Flummoxed, I decided to call in the experts--The Fabulous JewelTones. On the weekly zoom call, I modeled the hat. “Turban, Toque, or Tam?” I asked. The costumer nixed tam. I got some votes for toque (“You look like the Pillsbury Doughboy!")
Finally, one of the jewels suggested it was a sleeping cap, such as ladies who got their hair done once or twice a week used to preserve their hairdos between salon visits. “My mother wore one of those,” one JewelTone said. “We used to call it her helmet.”
I had briefly considered that this cap was for sleeping but rejected the idea because it had beads on it. Wouldn’t it be uncomfortable to sleep with them sticking into your skull? However, I reminded myself that during this era women routinely slept on rollers, sometimes quite large and spiky ones. What were a few little beads to that, especially cushioned by a poofy sixties hairdo?
Googling satin sleeping caps, I found lots that looked very similar, though none were beaded. And this cap (as one vintage ad said) was clearly “Bouffant Size.”
When I wore this hat, I wadded up bubble wrap to mimic the bouffant that would have filled the cap. I imagined myself with an Amy Winehouse beehive hidden under there, ready to spring forth in the morning to conquer the world with Aqua Net-fueled, gravity-defying heights.
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.