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My First Vintage Hats

My hat collection today is rather vast and spans the entire twentieth century, but once upon a time it was a pitiful assemblage of various caps, berets and sunhats I wore as a teenager and new hats bought in the 1990s. I don’t recall exactly when I bought my first true vintage hats – possibly a 1960s cloche in an op shop (thrift store) – but amongst my oldest hats, and earliest purchases is this pair: an Edwardian era navy felt Tyrolean hat draped in an ostrich-feather, and a 1920s black wool felt half-cloche trimmed in wide grosgrain ribbon.

I even remember purchasing these, under rather extraordinary circumstances. I was visiting my sister in Castlemaine, a country Victorian town, and she took me to a kind of magical old colonial house hidden in the centre of town that was seemingly inhabited by a single elderly lady, and her large collection of antiques and vintage fashion. We spoke in hushed tones as we entered the dimly-lit interior in the Victorian style, dark and every space covered in some sort of decoration.

My sister had already warned me about the vintage perambulator, in which the lady kept a baby doll (strangely similar to the late Australian artist Mirka Mora who once told me she often bumped it into doorways, after she saw me do the same with my shopping trolley!). The eccentric owner appeared, and upon learning that I was interested in looking at hats, allowed me to examine some up close.

When she saw just how interested I was, she told me she had many more hats upstairs, in the empty rooms, and she lead me up. What followed remains a hazy memory in my mind’s eye, like a surreal dream as I darted through room after room, gasping at such a treasure trove of hats. They were piled everywhere, on the furniture and gathering dust.

Eventually I settled on three – the Tyrolean cap the owner kept putting away, as though she was reluctant after all to part with it, until I firmly insisted on purchasing it, even at the high price of $90 she asked (in the early 1990s, it was a lot for me).

The third hat was a high-crowned straw, probably 1950s or 60s, painted gold and adorned with black ribbon and three fat roses (you can see that here). You could see the original blue and red straw under the gold spray paint; it might have been a refurbished relic from a theatre’s wardrobe department. Eventually I got rid of that hat, except for the roses which I removed and probably still have stored somewhere. I also bought a 1960s short jacket in a Regency style: it was sky-blue linen with silver lurex braid; that also has long-since departed my closet.

I’m pleased though that these two have lasted the test of time, as I still wear them today.

Photos: September 2019

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