Hats really topped things off

Published 12:56 am Saturday, April 6, 2013

Remember when one of the most fashionable accessories a woman wore to complement her Sunday go-to-meeting outfit was a hat? Did you ever stretch your neck from side to side in church, peering around a fashionable woman’s head laden with a bouquet of flowers or a fruit basket?

During my growing up years, my mother and I often shopped in Birmingham where there were shops with people who specialized in dressing hats. Department stores had millinery departments with large mirrors providing prospective buyers views from all angles. I liked to stand back and watch my mother and other shoppers try on hats in front of those mirrors. I sometimes slipped behind a post to hide my giggles when I saw someone try on what I considered a funny, ridiculous-looking number. During my teen years, two or three of my girl friends and I occasionally browsed department stores after school. Sometimes we tried on hats to amuse ourselves. I’m sure the hard-working sales ladies who worked on commission felt like driving us out of the stores for such behavior, but they never did.

By the time I married, you didn’t violate a fashion code if you didn’t wear a hat to church, but a lot of women still wore them. For a long time I did not. Then one day, I bought one that was simple and unadorned, but I found it somehow appealing. Unfortunately, our alliance was short-lived. It became irreparable when my husband, not paying attention, laid a mirror on top of it during a move with our mobile home. The weight of the mirror squished the crown down even with the brim. I never bought another.

I associate sun hats and bonnets with my maternal grandmother. She always wore her straw hat or one of her old-fashioned bonnets when she worked her flowerbeds or hoed her garden. My mother preserved one of her homemade sunbonnets edged with lace. Grandmother had stitched it on her sewing machine and finished it by hand. Today that treasured sunbonnet is lovingly tucked away in my own cedar chest.

While my grandmother used her hats for practical purposes, I met a couple of women who turned their talents toward having fun with hats. One presented fashion shows demonstrating various ways to wear a hat. She would whip out a sash, pull it across a hat brim, and then tie it under her chin. Sometimes she flipped a hat from front to back. She used a trellis of roses or a misty veil or other items that totally changed the looks of a hat.

Years ago, another friend told me she fashioned hats from real bird nests for herself and four friends. They wore them for a competition, vying for a prize. They dubbed one of the women who actually was named Bird the “Head Bird” of their “Birds of a Feather, Flock Together” group. I don’t know if they walked away with a prize. If not, they must have had some tough competition.