I’m not someone who wears a hat. I get emails all the time from hat makers who want to send me one, but I always decline. Despite my satisfaction with being comfortable wearing many metaphorical hats, I do not much like wearing the genuine thing. I never believed hats suited me. Perhaps it is that I could never find the right one. However, a few months ago I let a hat come into my life.
I met my hat while in Amsterdam. As we do when we’re somewhere new, Calvin and I wander off the beaten path and just “follow our nose”. By that I mean we go where our feet take us without an agenda. In this case, we walked away from Central Station and came upon a very narrow suspension bridge barely big enough for Calvin and me to walk across side by side. We entered a neighborhood that seemed more a village than part of a city. In search of a cafe, what we found instead was a couture hat shop.
Set in-between two green doors that led to the apartments sitting above was an enormous window revealing some hats. Hands cupped alongside our faces to deal with the glare, we peered in the window. The owner looked up from her work, seeing our curiosity and let us in. Entering we found what was more like an artist’s studio walls painted white with worn wooden floors. I saw hat blocks and wood-handled tools left on work tables and a sewing machine stood on the side looking as if it was just used. Scattered about like leaves on the ground were swaths of fabrics. There were workhorse textiles like tweeds, wools, and denim and those more ethereal like silk and netting. Hats of every shape and size hung on the wall, perched on stands, and strewn on antique dressers and shelves alongside headbands made of colored and print silks. Black and white hat boxes stacked like wedding cakes stood at the far end of the room below an open loft space. We had interrupted the owner in her construction of a perfect blush-colored silk rose. Gracious nonetheless she shared with us she was making a hat for a particular stylist requesting it for an issue of Vogue. We chatted and heard the story of how she came to be in Amsterdam from Japan and then I spotted it.
The “it” being what was to become my new hat. Officially known as a skipper cap, somehow the words Dutch Boy cap sprang to mind instead. Perhaps it was because I was in Amsterdam or perhaps it was the emotional day I spent exploring the spaces that my great-grandparents created (More on this in my next post). In that place, I envisioned my grandfather running around tables as a small boy. Or maybe it came from memories of the paint cans with a smiling boy with a cap I saw years ago in hardware stores. The cap is a deep midnight blue wool with a multicolored silk print lining. I imagine my grandfather must have worn one when he went ice-skating on the canals. But for me, the icing on the cake was the wild and unruly veil that fell from under the brim. The hat was who he was and who I am.
The veil offers me the privacy and mystery that has always been so important to me despite my paradoxical public performance. Better than sunglasses, it lets the blue of my eyes be known and seems to make my red lips redder. I am both accessible and inaccessible at the same time. And just like magic, my cap has become imbued with all kinds of stories. Those who read me know that I’m more of a pragmatist than a romantic unless it comes to items of apparel. It still surprised me I said yes to the hat. But it has become one of the loveliest and most meaningful items in my wardrobe.
One of the silver linings of quarantine for me has been having the time to read. By reading, I mean nerdy reading. Books with titles like Emotionally Durable Objects. Books on the impact of technology on your brain. But more so our relationship or in the age of consumerism the lack of relationship with objects, for example, our clothes. On Friday I’ll introduce you to a professor at MIT who has written a beautiful book called Evocative Objects. We’ll have a chat about it.
In the meantime, please share your own story of something in your wardrobe that makes you daydream and remember or that connects you to your past. Always in this time of the coronavirus, please stay safe and well.