The first hat I ever owned was a cowboy hat. I got it at Disneyland when I was five: a brown, flat-topped hat with a string chinstrap and a picture of Donald Duck on the front. In our camper on the trip home, I sat at the back window and waved at passing cars. Most of the people waved back. Maybe that was the start of it all. I discovered young that hats attracted attention.
However, that was the last cowboy hat I owned for many years. To be honest, cowboy hats aren’t ordinarily my style. I used to have one that I got for free at Western-themed company picnic in the late eighties. The only place I remember wearing that cowboy hat was on a trip to the Grand Canyon—it was at that time the only sun-shading hat I had.
As I bought sun hats more to my taste, I got rid of the freebie cowboy hat.
However, as I mentioned in The Beaded Satin Slumber Cap and The Beaded Double Crown, while I was helping my friend Ann clean out her house after her sister’s death, she said, “If you see something you like, take it.” I was working with another friend, Marnie, loading Hefty bags with clothes to donate to charity, when we came upon a suede and leather vest and skirt. I was smitten. I loved its seventies vibe. It seemed about my size, though the tagged size of the skirt was two sizes larger than I wear.
Seeing how much I liked it, Marnie said, “You should try it on.”
I couldn’t resist. I slipped the skirt on over my clothes and found it fit. The fact that the size numbers seem large by today’s standards is one indication of the outfit’s age. The sizing charts have changed over the years, with the measurements for sizes increasing, so that, for example, a vintage size eight is more like a modern size four.
Though obviously a set, the skirt and vest have different maker’s labels, both from Albuquerque—the skirt Pioneer Wear, the vest Sullivan.
When I asked Ann if I could take the set, she seemed genuinely pleased. It turned out that it was hers, not her sister’s, and that she hadn’t worn it for years. (That is borne out by the torn ticket to an Elks Lodge Dinner Dance from 1989 I found in the skirt pocket).
She asked me to take a picture of myself wearing it. “Oh, there will be pictures,” I said, already planning to blog about it.
The other friends helping that day said, “What a great Halloween costume that will make!”
I agreed, even though I hadn’t thought of it as a costume, just a cool outfit that would be fun to wear (no idea where). Like the gold lamé coat I bought recently, I just wanted it. I don’t really see vintage clothes as costume—or perhaps I see all clothes as costume.
Unfortunately (and somewhat unbelievably) I did not have a hat to go with the outfit. The closest might have been the Forgotten Hat, which I had given away to a friend a few months ago.
So I decided to buy a cowboy hat to go with the skirt and vest. Of course, I was too cheap to buy a new one at full price. I visited several antique and thrift stores before finding this one for eight dollars. It’s obviously not old—just a modern, made-in-China hat, but I liked the lacy look. It was lighter, softer, and cooler than my old cowboy hat. I wore it to a Halloween zoom chorus rehearsal. Like The First Hat, I bought this hat intending for it to be a costume. But that doesn’t mean it ONLY has to be a costume. It would be perfect for wearing to the fair, for example.
I also put the vest to use as a pirate costume for a Fabulous JewelTones video. Like the hat, someday I’ll wear the suede outfit just for fun—not as costume, but clothes.
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.