Just when I’ve convinced myself that I’m ready to downsize my studio, jettison everything I haven’t used in the last year, and stop being so sentimental about “stuff”, I get a phone call. “Can I borrow some of your vintage hats?” It’s Kayla, who remembers the hat collection from tea parties since she was age four. Now, all grown up and with a degree and a “real job”, she needs one for a bridal shower tea party where everyone was asked to wear a vintage hat. I dig them out, dust off the boxes, and she picks three: she hasn’t decided which dress to wear, and another friend needs one as well. The lavender number has faded to a bluish-grey and is shedding a bit; some of the leaves on the green velvet one are slightly crushed; but the white one is still perfectly shaped and ever so elegant.
Netted and feathered, they are designed to fascinate, to inspire a closer look. These were given to me by Aunt Muriel – most belonged to her friends. They were worn in San Francisco in the 40’s and 50’s by young women who no doubt wore them with gloves and silk stockings to their jobs, or in Portland to church on Sunday, or perhaps even New York (the hat boxes are printed with references to the stores and locations where the hats were purchased, so those are my clues). Quite a contrast to todays’ in-your-face-with-everything-I’ve-got styles, which leave absolutely nothing to the imagination, and if a young woman wears a hat, it’s probably to keep her ears from getting frostbite.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad women’s fashion took that turn for the practical in the late 70’s. At my first “real job” as a telephone operator, I was not allowed to wear pants to work for the first few years, then we were allowed to wear “pant suits”. But I think we stayed on that liberated freeway too long– it’s fine to strut all your stuff when your stuff is all smooth and perky, but later, it unavoidably becomes nice to have some way to downplay some of the stuff. Even if we are successful at redefining the ideal figure to get away from emaciation, and allowing big to be beautiful, there will always be a need for a bit of mystery in one’s wardrobe… with a well-placed dart or a bit of ruffle, a woman could make a “flaw” relatively invisible. And I say “could” because a recent shopping trip emphasized that fashion now clearly assumes that mature women are still wearing size 8 and want to wear those same flimsy bits of nothing that young women wear, (in fact, the same styles are shown for anyone female from age 6 on up – I call it the Hooker Look). The only alternatives are large slithery nylon tent-like garments covered with Dolly Partonesque-sequins in all the wrong places… good grief.
As Kayla leaves, so bright and young and lovely, I have a moment of feeling pretty “vintage”. I try to console myself that at least, unlike the hats, my feathers aren’t falling off. And thank goodness for blue jeans and running shoes!