Sky asked me about hats, and the first thing that I thought of was my grandmother’s voice, thick as olive oil, issuing the command, “Put a hat on that baby’s head!” Until I was four, my mother and I lived in our Eyrie apartment, and I was both awakened and lulled to sleep by the sounds of surf and shore birds and the basso profundo tone of the foghorn, but the rest of the time, I heard a lot about headgear.
The sun-hats that were foisted upon my toddler-self, generally in preparation for trips down the shore, or forays into my grandfather’s garden, started my addiction, my fascination with hats, but it was the hatboxes in the back of my grandmother’s closet that really cemented the relationship. These were not the cardboard gift boxes we think of as hat boxes, but small, round suitcases of the red and grey Samsonite variety. On rare occaisions, I’d been allowed to use them as overnight cases, but mostly, they held hats.
I don’t remember which hats came from which box, but I do remember the powdery smell of the scented paper that was wrapped around them, and I remember specific items that were withdrawn, not just hats, although there’s a red felt hat that I’ve inherited that is my all-time favorite, but also a collection of French gloves (long lost, alas) and a sealskin muff that I loved to touch, to caress, really, until I was old enough to understand that it was real animal fur. For a while, I still loved it, almost as much as the fox coat she had, for the softness, and the novelty of such a thing, as much for the notion of those items being relics of a lost era (though I’m sure I wouldn’t have used those words at the time), but later, after I saw my first seals and sea lions (okay, well, maybe not so much the sea lions, which are pretty much just big bags of jelly that bark), I couldn’t bear to slip my hands inside that muff any more.
As I grew up, my love of hats grew with me. As a teenager, I had berets in every color, including a black velvet one that, after I accidentally melted a patch of it by tossing it onto a curling iron I’d left plugged in, became my personal version of Jo March’s writing cap, though, without the bow. (I have a lifelong aversion to bows on hats and underwear), and an equally large array of painters caps and baseball caps, which are the best thing when you have long hair, because you can draw your ponytail through the hole at the back. (My collection as dwindled a bit, but both kinds of hat are still staples of my wardrobe).
Other hats in my collection are a green fedora, that I wear when I want to channel my inner Katherine Hepburn or Lauren Becall, a black one, for Annie Hall moments, and an embossed and irridescent velvet crushable stovepipe hat that I bought at a craft fair in San Jose more than a decade ago. (That hat is one of a pair I have from the same designer, an adorable older man with a merry soul and a treadle sewing machine, who called himself the Hatterdasher. Headgear is better when it comes with a pun. The second hat is a purple and green plaid velvet golf / newsboy cap.) Then there’s the classic straw hat perfect for picnics or trips to the faire, and the velvet Fez my mother made for me one year. I have several crushable hats from various sources, some velvet, and some in cottons and twills, and , my most special, a white leather tricorner adorned with peacock feathers (that and a saber came home with me from a science fiction con one summer…you haven’t lived btw, til you’ve tried to hop a Southwest flight carrying a sword)
I could go on, as I’ve only talked about a tenth of my collection, but more fun would be to explain why I love hats. As with any accessory, they’re part outfit, part costume, and I use them to help give myself a mood or theme for whatever I’m doing – when you’re essentially shy, you NEED crutches like that – so, I’ll wear a black beret and all black clothing if I’m feeling subversive, or a fedora if I feel like I need confidence. Newsboy styles are for jaunty moods, and baseball caps are for hiding.
Or at least they used to be. Now though, I live in a climate that isn’t conducive to hat wearing, and work in a place where they’re against dress code (here’s me NOT ranting about the fact that adults are given a dress code in the first place, because it’s another entry), and I have to admit, I feel like some part of my personality has been boxed up with my hats.
But at least the box is the one with the suns and moons painted on it.