So we've done the bags, now it's time for Fifty Hats That Changed the World and a book that I thought may be of less interest to me as the one and only person in the world who definitely doesn't seem to suit a hat and has little interest in them either. However reading this book suggests this may say more about the era I have lived in than anything more perceptive or damning about my bone structure or general unsuitability. In fact just this year, feeling so cold during the winter, I eschewed the drawer full of dog-walking pull-on fleece affairs with integral ear flaps all laying on a bed of knitted striped bobble hats various, and regressed instead to the beret and with some degree of success.
Now I discover the beret was not the French fashion chapeau of choice either, its origins lie with the Basque peasants who wore the txapela in the foothill of the Pyrenees to keep off the constant mountain drizzle, which obviously makes it equally well-suited to the foothills of the Tamar Valley.
The popularity of the fashion hat declined after World War II, so perhaps by the time I arrived in the 1950s hats were fast becoming a dated thing of the past and possibly now I'm feeling a bit out of the fashion loop, not really knowing where to start, with the recent hat resurgence? By the time I arrived gone were the days where it was considered unseemly for a woman to leave the house hatless though I was regularly clad in home-knitted bonnets in the winter to fend off earache and sunhats in the summer to fend off...the sun.
So the book was suprisingly interesting given that the functions of a hat can be so various, for warmth, protection, as the symbol of a role or with the aesthetic power to transform, and once the book had elaborated on the power of the hat 'as a kind of frame for some very human moments in history' I was intrigued.
The book launches with the Monomakh's Cap, a pertinent beginning given our Team Tolstoy venture, this the ultimate connotation of status in Russia and one still capable of creating that mystique, though it is almost a century since Russia dispensed with monarchy. Rich golden filigree and a band of sable make this the comfiest looking crown any monarch could wish for. I often feel sorry for the Queen having to sport our Crown Jewels, this looks infinitely preferable.
On Friday we are going to have a high time of it with the hats I feel sure and none more so than the top hat. At its fashion zenith in the 1860s I had no idea it was Prince Albert we have to thank for leading the European top hat trend here in England, nor that the top hat had phallic connotations and in direct contrast to the enclosing nature of the Victorian bonnet. Nor did I know that they were originally made out of beaver's or rabbit's pelt, now replaced by hatter's plush.
Bowler hats, the Derby, the fez, the balaclava with its predictable Crimean war origins, stetsons, and then the Australian Akubra. The cork-strung hat looked on by Australians with a mixture of affection and dismay apparently thanks in large part to Crocodile Dundee. And then the trilby, so which came first, the book or the hat, a close cousin of the fedora and yes, it really did take it's name from George du Maurier's book Trilby gaining a bohemian glamour as a result. The trilby much in evidence on the heads of the 'dapper crooks' in a book I have just read again, Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
And there was me thinking this would all about women's hats because again, through my era, hats for men have seemed in decline too...except here that is, where tweed flat caps still rule despite Madonna's best efforts. The original working man's headgear with all its Northern male connotations of pigeon fanciers and whippet-racing, so with Prince Charles now cited as the 'iconic flat cap wearer' my chaps are in good company.
Some of the most iconic hats for women proved interesting, Jackie Kennedy's pill box hat worn at the presidential inauguration.Jackie apparently disliked hats as much as I do but protocol insisted. The 'Jackie Look' was born and It became her signature hat throughout the presidency.
Audrey Hepburn's supersized black and white hat for My Fair Lady and the suggestion that every film she starred in launched a trend.. notably the 'little black dress' of Breakfast at Tiffany's fame. This hat designed by Cecil Beaton as 'part parody - part celebration.'
Millinery as spectacle taken to its limits with Gertrude Shilling's Ascot hats and Audrey's hat provided all the inspiration that David, Gertrude's son needed in designing for his mother.
Even Aretha Franklin's Obama inauguration hat gets a mention. The dove-grey, big-bowed hat designed by Luke Song and destined to upstage everyone else for miles around but redolent of the African-American tradition of wearing a 'crown' to church as a mark of pious respect.
So many more I could go on for hours, but what incredibly enjoyable and informative books these two have been and interestingly not a fascinator in sight, though doubtless hundreds on show at the nuptials.
I can now bore for England on the subject of bags and hats but at least that's us named and dressed ready for the big day, I'll be publishing the full dovegreyreader guest list tomorrow and we'll be having a full dress rehearsal and run through of timings etc too, but for now I search for book covers with hats on and can I find one...
What would a hat say about the contents of a book I wonder?
Protection, a shield, a disguise...