Friday, May 23, 2008

Berets, bonnets and boaters

Deddeda Stemler

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 21, 2008


Ray Wiggins and Laura Funk entered the shop with heads bared. They exited topped by shiny new chapeaux.

'Tis May, a month in which rainy mornings give way to sunny afternoons, the warming weather an opportunity for waterlogged British Columbians to show themselves after too many weeks of damp hibernation.

On Government Street yesterday, tourists strolled on a window-shopping parade. Some, enticed by a milliner's display, were soon preening in front of mirrors, running fingers along felt brims, tipping, topping and turning for just the right look.

May is hat season. At the Kentucky Derby, aficionados of the sport of kings wear outlandish headgear, perhaps none quite as outrageous as the punter in a hard hat. Covered by roses, it featured two motorized horses rotating overhead.

In England, Autumn Kelly, a commoner from suburban Montreal, married Peter Mark Andrew Phillips, who is 11th in line to the throne as Princess Anne's son. The newlywed couple rode away from the chapel at Windsor Castle in a horse-drawn Balmoral Sociable carriage driven by footmen in top hats.

The bride wore a tiara lent by her mother-in-law, but the hats that earned the most commentary were worn by the Princesses Eugenie (“a jaunty cream cap,” reported one newspaper) and Beatrice (“a magnificent, Technicolored butterfly-strewn headpiece,” trilled the Telegraph. “It was pitch-perfect for an early summer wedding and nicely complemented her tiered chiffon rainbow skirt.”)

Other verdicts were not as kind to Bea. “When butterflies attack it can be ugly,” the tabloid Sun sneered.

For an industry said to have been doomed a half-century ago by John Kennedy's choice to go hatless in the chill at his presidential inauguration, the hat biz is booming.

“The dressy element of hat-wearing turned people off,” Roberta Glennon acknowledged yesterday inside her eponymous hat shop.

In the shop, you could hardly turn around without bumping a hat from a customer's head.

These days, celebrities dictate the styles, whether it's Samuel Jackson in a flat cap, or Renée Zellweger in a flapper's cloche. Ms. Glennon follows the trends through image searches on Google.

She constructed her first hats for friends in home economics class in Grade 7, and has been operating out of this storefront for 16 years, opening in anticipation of the 1994 Commonwealth Games.

Victoria is a tourist town, but it also boasts a rich military history, complete with formal balls. An invitation to a shindig up at Government House may also require more formal gear than what one might wear to the Moss Street Paint-In. Those in the know also suggest a fine piece of millinery can earn a better table at formal tea at the Empress.

Some customers are engaged in traditional activities of somewhat less formality. The dancers at Monty's Exotic Showroom Pub down the street are known to pop in to purchase props one imagines are chosen less for their stylishness than for their feathery promise.

A portrait of the Queen overlooks the store, where an old television console serves as an aquarium.

The shop is home to berets and bonnets, boaters and bowlers, panamas and porkpies, Rocky Balboa fedoras and Elmer Fudd hunting caps. A table is covered by Fidel caps, a cadet cap that remains in style even as its most famous wearer fades away.

Little Peter Jones, a kindergarten pupil who turned 6 on Sunday, avoided the neighbouring toy store in favour of a rummage at Roberta's. He did not try on the jester's cap, or the pirate's tricorne, although he could not resist the hat shaped like a cake complete with candles.

A hat can define the wearer, whether a Shriner in a fez or Sherlock Holmes in his deerstalker. Headwear can be a religious obligation, as in a yarmulke or a turban; it can signify high station, as in a papal mitre; it can be a workplace obligation, as in the labourer's hard hat; it can be just good common sense, as in the helmet for the hockey player. A tractor cap protects the face, but not the neck, of the sunburned farmer. The author Peter C. Newman has adopted a Greek fisherman's cap as a favoured prop to go with his pipe.

After many minutes of selecting, Ms. Funk chose a fashionable cadet cap. “I love trying them on,” she said. “It's flirty. It's fun. It's like trying on a costume, like dressing up.”

Her companion left with a bush hat. Good choice. The new Indiana Jones movie opens in days.

2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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