Long before Irving Berlin marched his lyrics down Fifth Avenue on Easter Sunday the pope wore a mitre, the rabbi, a yarmulke. Nurses earned their caps; a gangster ducked beneath his fedora; a beribboned boater shielded Venetian gondoliers.
Green Berets and hard hats define their wearers as do starched white Amish bonnets.
Ascot, Churchill Downs and the Steeplechase at Carolina Horse Park wouldn’t be as racy without elaborate chapeaux.
That’s not why Rachel Terhune calls herself a “hataholic” or why Olivia Dowdy Brown has a “hatitude.”
“When I see a woman wearing a hat, I see a confident individual who knows who they are,” Brown says.
Brown stopped counting her hats at 125. She rarely leaves home without one.
Hats may be indigenous to various cultures, but being a cheery white-haired British lady helps.
“Hats fascinate me,” Terhune says. “They are part of the English way of life.”
Terhune’s mummy left her little girls in the hat department while she shopped. They played dress-up, flitting from pillbox to cloche.
“Whenever you went out you wore a hat,” even during the lean years following World War II, Terhune recalls.
In the 1960s, proper Southern ladies still wore hats to daytime social events — and church.
Informalizing church attire may have driven the millinery industry out of mass production and into boutiques. Gone are hat departments in ladies ready-to-wear stores.
But old habits die hard, especially in Britain. Princess Diana showed the queen a thing or two with exquisitely flamboyant hats (some costing in the thousands), made to match each outfit.
Here and now, women wear hats out of preference, not obligation.
Terhune — after a life of travel and adventure — settled in Pinehurst.
“The state of hats here is zero,” she trills, with an impish smile.
Perhaps that is why Terhune turns heads with souvenirs of world travel: From Thailand, a hat that folds like a fan. From Finland, a black fox halo. From Norway, a four-cornered embroidered felt. From a recent Palustris tea-and-hats party, a classic straw revamped with trim from Renee’s in Aberdeen.
Terhune’s fondest (and most startling) hat is a Pepto-Bismol pink fleece number drowned in spring flowers, which she wore skiing at Copper Mountain, Colo., on an Easter Sunday.
“Love your hat!” skiers yelled as they sped by.
Brown’s hat habit goes way back.
“My mother was a beautician; she did my hair,” says Brown.
When Brown moved away she took the easy way out. As a multimedia artist and craftsperson, she was able to make her own hats. One motif she favors resembles a fuzzy colored spider perched over the brow.
Brown also adores romantic vintage hats — as worn by Miss Kitty in “Gunsmoke” — and creations by Janet Kenworthy of Blue Street Designs in Aberdeen. Kenworthy got into hats through thoroughbred racing.
“We had to wear hats at the racetrack,” she says. “Being a sewer, I learned to do it myself.”
Kenworthy sees hats as an expansion of personality or a means of concealing emotions. The antidote to a bad day, Kenworthy believes, is to put on a new hat.
Kenworthy predicts a dermatology-related millinery revival. Whatever the reason, “You have to feel comfortable in your hat or you can’t look great,” she says.
Olivia Dowdy Brown looks great in bold colors that set off her smile, and smallish shapes that do not overpower her petite stature. Baseball caps — never.
A taller Rachel Terhune looks great in quirky costume hats, wide-brimmed garden-party toppers, scrunchy cotton Tilleys.
But for both women, hats represent more than head coverings. Hats are a state of mind.
Today, that state would be Easter.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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