“Look, they have typewriters,” my husband said, pointing at the yard sale across the street. We were out for a walk, a habit I took up during the pandemic when I was dying to get out of the house. (If you want to see photos from my walks, check out my Instagram at @annhillesland).
A few years ago, I had wanted an old typewriter to use as a plant holder, and even though we found one, we haven’t gotten out of the habit of looking for them. So we walked across the street, as we got closer, I saw something that excited me more than typewriters—hat boxes!
This box seemed promising—even though it was taped together, it was branded Stetson. Inside, I found a fedora. (Though the brim is narrow for a fedora, I think it is one, but I welcome more educated input).
Despite owning wide variety of hats, I have never had a fedora before. I try them on sometimes, but they don’t usually appeal to me. Like cowboy hats, their style usually doesn’t suit mine. Still, I liked this one—its basic black, its shy little red feather.
A couple were having the yard sale—the man said the hats belonged to the woman. When she saw my interest, she explained that the man, knowing she liked hats, would buy her one whenever he was in a hat shop and found one in her size.
My husband, knowing I wanted the hat but was hesitating, encouraged me to get it. He actually bought it, since I had not brought any money on this neighborhood walk. So, he, like the man at the yard sale, was showing his love for me by buying a hat.
Vintage hats are relics of a certain time and place. Often vintage hats have labels from particular milliners or hat stores, often including the place they were made or sold. So many old hats are not mass-produced, but hand-made or hand-decorated visions of an individual artist. In that way they are often more unique than many other pieces of vintage clothing.
Even though this hat is mass produced, made by probably the most famous American hat company, it's stamped “Square Stores for Men, 2787 Milwaukee Ave, Chicago” in gold inside on its leather hatband. This store no longer exists. But the hat does, a memento of a time and place that has vanished.
And what could be cooler than a fedora from Chicago? I wish I could have worn it to a blues club, but it turns out wearing it on a walk along the bluffs by the Pacific Ocean suited it just as well.
And for those wondering about my typwriter planter, here it is. I keep it in my writing room, next to my modern computer to connect me with writers of the last century, as the hats connect me to the past.
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.