Decide: Are you a hat person?

Family Matters

April 11, 2004|By Susan Reimer

I AM NOT A HAT PERSON, and there are apparently a lot of us.

Women who swear they look like a street lamp in a hat, though they have never tried one on.

Women who wear hats by carrying them at their sides, too self-conscious to put one on their heads.

Women who see pictures of other women, confidently wearing fedoras with black, grosgrain hatbands, and wish they had that hat, or that confidence.

Easter is the National Day of Hats, and a particularly tough day for us not-hat persons. Kentucky Derby day, Preakness Saturday and weddings fill us with dread as well.

But there is hopeful news: apparently there is no such thing as a not-a-hat person. We are all hat people. It is just that some of us are still in search of the right hat and the right way to wear it.

"In the 1940s, every woman wore a hat and every woman looked great," says Kimberli D. MacKay, director of design for Betmar in New York, maker of hats, handbags and scarves.

"The difference is, they knew how to shop for a hat."

A woman looking to become a hat person can't simply plop one on her head, twist to the left and right in front of a department store mirror and walk to the cash register.

"There are six or eight basic silhouettes," says MacKay. "One of them is bound to be right for you."

Casey Bush, head of the Headwear Information Bureau in New York and owner of more than 100 hats herself, offers this advice.

"Go into the store and tell the salesperson you are going to be there for a while. Then try on everything."

After you find four or six that look good, "think proportion," says Bush.

"Find a full-length mirror. The little tiny hat might look good with your face, but not with your figure."

To fit properly, a hat must cover the tops of a woman's ears -- not sit on the back of her head. The brim must be even with a woman's brow line.

"A true hat person knows how to wear hats," says Susan Amar, creative director for Frank Olive of New York.

"It takes a woman of confidence to wear a hat."

Despite the number of women among us who declare that they are not hat people, hats are making a big comeback.

According to industry figures, hat sales have been growing by 5 to 15 percent every year since the mid 1980s, topping $1 billion last year.

The reasons range from the growth of the Red Hat Society, a group of women over 50 who defiantly wear their red hats to meetings and group events, to the tragedy of 9 / 11, which sent people back to church, where hats were first called for in St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians.

Stars like Cameron Diaz, who was profiled with her hat maker on VH1, Madonna and Britney Spears have given younger women permission to wear hats, too.

"They want to express themselves, to set themselves apart," says Bush of the Headwear Information Bureau.

"Hats are not in every woman's mind, but women think of them for an occasion," said Amar of Frank Olive.

"And those are the kinds of hats we sell. Ones with a larger brim, ones that make more of a statement: 'Here I am and here is my hat.'

"That's the whole point of a hat."

This is a busy time of year for shops such as Ruth Shaw's in Baltimore's Cross Keys. Preakness is just around the corner, and women will arrive with their suits in hand, looking for the perfect hat.

"Finally choosing to wear a hat is a rite of passage for a woman," says Ray Mitchener, manager and buyer for Ruth Shaw.

Most women recognize the need of a hat for protection against the damaging rays of the sun. But a fabric or canvas hat, a visor or a baseball cap is not what we are talking about here.

"I am talking about the woman who feels unfinished without her hat. The woman whose hat makes a statement," he said.

A dress hat can range in price from $75 to $500. This season, pastels -- bright or soft -- are in. But a woman can never go wrong with spectator colors: navy, red, or black and white.

The practical trend in hats is the crushable, packable hat that keeps its shape under the worst traveling conditions.

"People don't like to carry hat boxes any more," said Mitchener.

But they will need them for the over-the-top Preakness hats he has ordered.

"These hats do belong in a hat box. They are works of art. They are one of a kind pieces. They are the classic dress hat," he said.

"Some of our clients actually buy their hats before they buy their outfits," says Mitchener.

Now that's a true hat person.

For more information on hats, visit the Headwear Information Bureau at www.hatsworldwide.com or Kay Killen's Hat Society at www.thehatsociety.com.

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