Top Hat

I grew up in northern New England (the southern part of northern New England, if you follow), which means that I spent my youth in cold temperatures. My mother dressed me appropriately in snowsuits, boots, and hats when I was little, but as soon as I was a teenager, I followed the local custom and ran around all winter hatless, wearing Tretorn sneakers without socks. The folly of youth!
As an adult, I have embraced hats. They really do help you stay warm. I also have developed some views about how to wear hats stylishly. NOTE: I am not going to tell you what hat styles complement certain face shapes or hairstyles because I honestly don’t know. For that, I recommend going to a hat shop and trying all the hats on. You’ll know when one flatters you because you will suddenly be bathed in a soft light and hear other-worldly choral music.

First and foremost, I am all about the soft, crushable hat. I live in a city apartment and don’t have space for storing a half dozen blocked hats. I have a hat drawer.
Dr. Zhivago! An ivory shearling hat looks chic with a black coat
Dr. Zhivago meets pillbox; an ivory shearling hat looks chic with a black coat

Second, your hat should coordinate with your coat and your scarf. This doesn’t mean that they should all be the same color or that your hat and scarf must match. Au contraire! I generally select a scarf that coordinates with my outfit and then pick a hat that coordinates with that scarf and my coat.
And then some days I just wear a black coat with a black hat and scarf.
Light grey crocheted cap also lightens a black coat
Light grey crocheted cap also lightens a black coat; note tiny newsboy visor

Perhaps you are reading this and saying to yourself, Directrice, it’s all I can do in the morning to get dressed. I can’t be fussing with scarves and hats! Be assured: hats and scarves are for extra credit, the cherry on top of the sundae. But there is something very polished about a look that includes harmonizing outerwear. Now back to the wisdom!
Third, hand-knitted caps are charming. If you can’t smooth your way in with a prolific knitter, visit a local craft show or Etsy.
For the professors, it's a rustic, knitted toque
For the professors, it’s a rustic, knitted tam
I love the large stitches, thick wool and lumpy asymmetry of this hat
I love the large stitches, thick wool and lumpy asymmetry of this hat

Fourth, I am particularly partial to berets, which anyone can wear . . . although I must admit that the French wear them with more élan than the rest of us.
The key is: Don’t stress about how, exactly, the beret is sitting on your head. The beret knows what to do.
I have had this Black Watch beret since I was a teenager
Let the beret do its thing

While white and black are a classic pairing, I prefer camel or brown with a winter white coat. And leopard print gloves, of course.
Brown with winter white is also very chic
Brown with winter white is very chic; a cross between a pillbox and a cloche

Top Hat
Top Hat

And this one is my favorite of all the beloved hats: a beret embellished with a few buckles.

Finally, I have special head gear for bitter, bitter cold and the days following heavy snow.
Correctly or incorrectly, I believe that the right hat — a cheerful hat — boosts public morale and creates esprit de corps. People cannot help but smile at a cheerful hat. So I wear this awesome hat that my mother found for me in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and people do smile at me.
The angle of this photo is minimizing the impact of this pom-pom; it's the size of a small grapefruit
The angle of this photo is minimizing the impact of this pom-pom; it’s the size of grapefruit

If my theory holds, surely this is the hat that can bring peace to the Middle East.
When I debuted this hat a few years ago, Connecticut Avenue could not handle it
When I debuted this hat a few years ago, Connecticut Avenue could not handle it
But a lot has changed in the last few years
People — respectable-looking strangers — were making comments and offering opinions like, “Nice mouse ears” and “Look at your hat”
Ready or not
But I am undeterred and will continue to dispense good cheer in any manner I see fit

Top Hat makes me think of Top Hat, which led me to ruminate on Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies more generally. I rank them like this: (1) Top Hat; (2) Shall We Dance; (3) Swingtime; (4) all the others, except Follow the Fleet, which is dead last. Upon consulting the Internet, I found that many people rate Swingtime first or second. Perhaps it is time to re-visit some of these . . .

Shearling hat: Surrell; Grey crocheted hat: Pistil; Green hat: Geraldine Tayar; Plaid beret: Liz Claiborne (my mother bought this beret for me when I was in high school); Brown hat: Zazu & Violets in Berkeley CA; Beret w/ buckles: Lola; Two Pom Pom hat: Eugenia Kim

19 thoughts on “Top Hat”

    • Hi Julia — In general, hats have a mildly sedating effect on my hair. I don’t mind this effect because my hair has a lot volume. I sometimes think my hair looks nicer after I’ve been wearing a hat. This may sound a little bizarre, but some of the reason for this is that when I leave for work in the morning, my hair is not completely dry. So the hat creates a micro-climate (Biosphere!), that is warm and humid. Bear in mind, I am not putting a hat on with wet hair. It’s just not completely dry. Washington D.C. is also a humid place, so even in the winter, the air is not terribly dry. That helps, too. When it is extremely dry, my hair is noticeably straighter and then wearing a hat leaves it very flat.

  1. This is great! I live in Boston and am gearing up for the winter slog ahead — I have a couple of nice-looking hats, but they are the stiff ones you describe that, in addition to taking up room in the closet, also tend to blow off. And the more practical, fitted, knit hats I have and see most commonly look great if you have long hair and a longer face. But as someone with a bob about the length of yours and a rounder face, my most flattering look has been a newsboy cap. Unfortunately, I only have one, and it is not particularly warm, nor does it coordinate with my mostly black and red coat collection. You have inspired me to seek out this style, or something in the beret arena — thank you!

    • Hi Bubu — Years ago, I had several smart blocked wool hats and I gave them away when I realized that, despite their beauty, I never wore them and they took up so much space. I still like try such hats on at Neiman Marcus! Another benefit of crushable hats is that it is very convenient to have a hat that you can tuck into your bag when you arrive at your destination (work, restaurant, opposing counsel’s office, airport).

  2. I like hats but stopped wearing them because of the static caused when taking the hats off, sigh. If very cold I will put my coat hood if the coat has a hood.
    Otherwise my hair ends up looking like Einstein’s if I dare to wear a hat. Or I guess I could wear the hat all day and not take it off until the privacy of my home.

    • Hi Sheila: A hood is a very practical alternative. I wonder if spritzing your hair with a little water (or just dampening your fingers and running them through your hair) before putting a hat on would help. Scientists, tell us! Water discharges the electricity that causes static cling, right?

  3. Directrice, this might be my all-time favorite blog of yours ever! I laughed and laughed. Especially the part about letting the beret do its thing. I love all the hats, specially the crazy Mickey Mouse one. No, I take that back, the one I truly love, for its fashion value, is the green professor’s hat, that baby brings tears to my eyes! In general: MY problem with hats is that they wreak havoc on your hair. It’s just the plain truth and there’s nothing to be done about it. When I lived on the East Coast, I always opted to freeze because I am a vain and shallow person. The Directrice has miracle hair, she can wear hats and not look like a dog bed afterward. The rest of us are not so lucky.

    • Perhaps I have been blessed with resilient hair, but I lack the motor skills and patience to actually style it. I have confessed above to using hats as styling tools. So delighted to make you laugh.

  4. I’m a lover of hats also and I think people overreact about how their hair looks after wearing them! First off hair is pretty elastic—and if your hat isn’t too tight, it doesn’t really leave marks. Besides, who wants perfect hair anyways (this coming from someone who never has perfect hair anyday)? jodie

    • It is true, Jodie, that some hats do less damage than others — which is another thing I love about berets. They don’t squash one’s hair. The beanies that have been so ubiquitous over the last few years are pretty gentle on the hair/head and they look great.

  5. I spent quite some time staring rudely at that final beanie/hat, trying to determine if they were flat ears or pom-poms, only to finally scroll down and see the answer noted in the round-up at the end. The last pom-pom I made was completely and utterly disappointing considering it was made with a gadget that suggested it was a pom-pom maker, when it most definitely was not! I am noting the design mentally though, and will consider whether to try again with the old style doughnut rings.

    I have tried on berets and tams on occasion and they haven’t known what to do, or have been momentarily confused. I will give them another chance when I next cross their paths, but perhaps allow them time to arrange themselves as they wish.

    You’ve shown us a great selection and I like them all. Thank you.

  6. I love the green Tam!

    Hats are good for my hairdos because they prevent the wind from ruining whatever set you’ve attempted to impart. I have bob length hair and I twist the top part up in a swirl and secure it with a clip and put the hat on over that. When I arrive at my destination I undo the clip and I have bouncy not-flat hair. When I wash and blow dry my hair I use spray gel and it keeps it’s hold with the body heat the hat holds next to my scalp.

    A requirement for my hats is that the crown be roomy so that swirl isn’t smashed down.

    I love Helsinki Hats too.

    When you commute on public transit then outwear style becomes more relevant. It seems like a lot of people just run out to their cars and then into their offices wearing the same coat all winter long.


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