When I was between ten and thirteen years old, before I became a total Anglophile, I was a Francophile. I dreamt that the French I picked up watching Canadian Sesame Street would catapult me handily into the world of “fluency” and that I would eventually live in Paris, wear berets, eat cheese, and be wildly, effortlessly sophisticated. I express this desire by wearing an ill-fitting t-shirt with the Eiffel Tower on it under a pink scrawl that read “Paris,” for anyone who didn’t already know, I guess.
The same year that I wore that t-shirt so much people finally remarked upon it, I also got my first beret. My mother bought it for me with the idea that it would keep my head and ears warm since I had decided that I was too cool for earmuffs, and other hats flattened out my meticulously coiffed hair. I requested it so that I would have years and years of practice wearing a beret, and once I got to Paris, I would fit right in with the natives. I would settle the hat jauntily on my head, with a minor adjustment just for flair, and leave the Bistro where my sophisticated friends and I had been having a late lunch, and saunter back to my office to put the finishing touches on my next bestseller.
The dream started to die once I got my beret home and realized that no matter how I placed it on my head, I looked like a total asshole. It was like the hat wore me instead of the other way around. It was all you could see, and just looked…odd. I spent hours in front of the mirror arranging, and flattening, and pouffing, and tugging, then ironing, then deciding that it must be my hair, and experimenting with up/down looks, curls, straight, low ponytail, bun etc. Finally, I found one way of merely placing it on the top of my head that didn’t make me look completely foolish, but I had to be careful not to move my head too rapidly, or it would fly off. I wore it out of the house exactly once before it was relegated to the hat collection in the back of my closet.
Since that time, I’ve purchased half a dozen other hats, all with the idea that I would actually wear them. They all looked incredibly cute in the store, and matched outfits in my collection, but once I put them on, friends would screw up their faces and say something like “it’s cute, but… I don’t know.”
So I’ve accepted that hats are not for me. I simply do not have the face/head shape that hats suit, so I’ve stopped trying. Since I don’t often go to the Kentucky Derby, or any other place where a hat might be required, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out too much. I have a ridiculous sun hat that I bought to keep the top of my head from getting sunburned in the summertime, and whenever people see it, they laugh, but I don’t care.
Last night, I was watching the HBO version of the movie Grey Gardens about the two “free-spirited” society ladies who eventually live in squalor in a house in East Hampton. The squalor was obviously unappealing, but when times were good, these women wore some fabulous hats. I didn’t realize how much I’d internalized it untilI was driving to work this brisk October morning thinking that my outfit would really come together if I had a kicky hat.
But I know better…