Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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The Hat’s Out of the Bag!

This hat is most likely a reproduction, custom-made for a theatre

A shopping time limit and baggage allowance together are not two conditions conducive to tranquil vintage shopping. So when a friend and I were browsing in the Zoo Emporium in Sydney, I did not expect to buy anything.

Not until, however, I looked up at a looming mannequin and saw a 1920s style fan hat that literally made me catch my breath in awe. “Look!” I gasped. My friend’s eyes nearly popped out.

Our amazement was due to the sheer size of this theatrical extravaganza of ostrich feathers. It must have been a metre wide. “Try it on!” my friend urged. I paraded around, testing its balance, supposing it would be too expensive anyway. Upon enquiry, we heard everything in the store was half price, and the hat was $33. Our jaws dropped. Even $66 would be cheap.

“You must buy it!” my friend declared firmly. Assuredly, but what on earth would they say at check-in at the airport? She pooh-poohed my concerns. Easy for her. A plastic bag big enough to fit the hat was found. Conveniently, it was transparent, enabling the airline staff to see the harmless contents.

A more modest version of a fan hat from a 1914 fashion plate by George Barbier, for ‘Journal des Dames et des Modes’

Later that day …

Waiting in line at check-in, I hoped that I would get the male steward. They’re nearly always a little more easy-going than the gimlet-eyed women. Unfortunately, I was waved to another counter manned by a woman. And that’s when the trouble began.

My carry-on baggage clocked in at an acceptable 10.4kg, but the stewardess eyed my handbag and hat in disapproval. I had three items. Her lip curled. “Can you fit the hat in the bag?” No, I explained, I couldn’t possibly do that because the hat was vintage, fragile, and it would get squashed. Adding my handbag to my baggage still made the latter too heavy for the overhead lockers.

“I’ll have it under the seat in front of me,” I pointed out – but no: I would still be carrying three items. The woman asked the male steward his opinion. He shrugged. I had the distinct impression he thought his colleague was making an unnecessary fuss.

Helpfully, the stewardess suggested I remove clothing from my bag and put it on, so that the carry-on would be light enough to fit my handbag. I looked at her like the nincompoop she was. It was practically still summer – what did she think I had in my bag? A fur coat? I didn’t have enough clothes in there to put on to make a difference.

I needed to lose weight fast, or I would obliged to pay an extra $70 to check my baggage – which would defeat the purpose of buying a cheap flight. It seemed we were at an impasse, but for a divine inspiration that struck me suddenly: “What if I wear the hat?” I asked.

Did such an enormous hat actually count as a hat, or a piece of furniture?

The woman stared at me. I could see the cogs ticking over. Did such an enormous hat actually count as a hat, or a piece of furniture? She referred to the steward again. “It is a hat,” he shrugged. “People can wear hats.”

At last she was satisfied and warned me that I would have to wear the hat through security, and on board the plane. “Okay,” I replied meekly, suppressing my triumph.

Approaching security, I paused. Was I really going to put on the hat now? I rather suspected that the mere sight of it on my head would be enough to have security tackle me to the floor and slap handcuffs on me. I decided I would not wear the hat, and I sailed through with flying colours. No-one was at all interested in me or my belongings.

I did suffer a slight check when I saw the same steward from check-in scanning our boarding passes, and rather sheepishly tried to obscure my hat behind my body. He grinned and waved me through. I was going home!

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