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After Work: Hats On For The Garden Club Meeting

In the United States hat wearing isn’t much done these days, says Dona Gibbs.

But Dona needed a new hat to wear at the Little Garden Club of Rye Annual Meeting. Traditions must be maintained. Off she went to a very special shop in New York City. The result: a broad-brimmed sunshine-yellow panama, trimmed with an over-blown yellow silk rose and a pale green band.

And an added bonus: a delectably readable column for Open Writing.

I needed a new hat. No, don’t take that “ needed” as a self-justifying word choice when “wanted” would be more appropriate.

“Honey I need a new hat!” was something that comic strip wives wailed to their beleaguered husbands, who just couldn’t figure out “the little woman.” Back in those cartoon days, women, I suppose, used hat buying as pick-me-ups – mood enhancers as it were.

No, I really did need a hat. I was on my way to a garden club annual meeting. And as a nod or tongue in cheek smirk to the past, we all wear hats, the more elaborate or just plain goofy, the better.

Seventy-five or more years ago when a small group of women met and formed the second garden club of a small New York commuter town, they never dreamed that we would honor them with hat wearing, I bet.

By the way, the town now has three garden clubs for a population of about 15,000 –and a lot of small civic gardens, hanging baskets festooning street lamps and planters galore. But most days there’s not a summer hat to be seen the whole (three-block) length of Purchase Street.

In the United States hat wearing isn’t much done these days. Not even for weddings.

It wasn’t always the case. Growing up in the forties and fifties, I always wore a hat to church. White gloves too. When I came to New York City as a cub copywriter in the sixties, I wore a hat to work and still clung to those ridiculous gloves. Fashion editors famously wore hats. By Mr. John. By Lily Dache. Confectionary atop sculptured curls.

By the middle to late sixties, the entire hat business took a dive. John F. Kennedy didn’t wear a hat to the inauguration. And if he didn’t have to wear a hat, why should millions of other American men?

There’s a famous photograph of Jackie Kennedy leaving mass in Palm Beach, Florida. She is dressed in a simple sleeveless shift dress and is wearing a simple kerchief. No hat for Jackie on Palm Sunday. A prescient shiver of horror for the waning popularity of hats.

By the time Mary Tyler Moore flung her hat into the air in the opening credits of the long-running television 70s American sitcom, women knew they “were going to make it after all” even if they weren’t wearing hats.

Anyway, I mused on hat wearing all the way from 84th Street to 38th Street, west of Fifth Avenue to the old millenary supply district. Oh, there are still stores that only sell ribbons and lace. Stores that sell appliqués. Sparkly, spangled stuff. Feathers, from birds not yet endangered like chicken, pheasant, turkeys and ostriches.

And there is one particular store that is a true New York find for hat lovers. It sells hat “bodies” and trimmings for those dexterous and creative enough to put together their own concoction. Next door, under the same ownership, they sell hats already trimmed.

It’s a fantasy for anyone who’s always known she (more often, than you’d think, he, on certain occasions) would look more sophisticated in a hat.

Now you’d think that this gem of a store might lack for customers. It doesn’t.

I’ve visited many times and there’s always been customers oohing and ahhing over the possibilities. And, what’s more important for a holdout store like this, buying.

It may be that readers in the UK and other parts of the world don’t have a fix on “church ladies.” In the US, “church ladies” are not the pursed mouthed Bostonians, who famously “already have their hats.”

No, church ladies are proud, dignified African-American women who know what becomes a woman. And nothing makes a statement like the right hat.

This time. I was in luck. There was a “church lady” shopping for a hat or two, suitable for out of town visiting.

I was wandering around. Trying on straw “bodies” and gazing on all the choices of ribbons and trimmings. The “church lady” kept up a running commentary of possibilities.

Then I was really in luck. Out from a back room, zoomed a hat fixin’ dynamo. Hat star to all the “church ladies”, it seemed. We (she) picked out a shape, broad-brimmed panama; selected a color, sunshine yellow; found a silk flower, over-blown yellow rose and chose a pale green band.

She stitched on the whole lot for just a few dollars while I tried on more hats.

I put on the final result.

“You’re lookin’ good,” said the Church Lady.

And I think she would know.

I’m ready to strut my stuff at the Little Garden Club of Rye Annual Meeting.

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