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.
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.