Hats on to summer swelter

The recent spate of hot temperature days has brought with it creative ways to dress, or as the case may be, undress.

Women who have always worried about their flabby upper arms could care less as they grab a sleeveless shirt and, as far as pantyhose, who even wears them anymore, regardless of the heat?

Several years ago I remember a story, however, of a heat wave where women of the elderly kind did their health a great disservice because they modestly insisted on wearing slips and probably girdles, despite the swelter. Contrast that to Marilyn Monroe’s character in “The Seven Year Itch,” who stashed her undies in the icebox to maintain her cool.

In my own efforts to avoid a meltdown when I’m outside the orbit of my window air conditioners, I’ve actually added to my wardrobe.

On the first day of the most recent heat wave I noticed a display of spiffy straw hats in the store located across the street from where I have been temporarily working at a weekly newspaper. With a regular paycheck, at least for seven weeks, I was emboldened to step inside the slightly high-end store and at least try on a hat or three.

Several seemed right up my alley, but I wanted to think about it. The next day I was back and decided on a mauve-colored model made of fabric with a wide brim, plopping it on my head after the clerk had snipped off the tags.

In case you haven’t noticed, women aren’t so much into the hats like generations past. Looking around church on Easter Sunday this year, I only noticed one bonnet, a distinct difference from my mother’s day when women had as many hats as they did pairs of shoes.

I have always been fascinated by the 1930s and ‘40s of her generation, especially the glamour of New York with its nightclubs, the little lamps on all the tables, where people sipped Manhattans, music came from a band dressed in tuxedoes, and most importantly the women wore stylish hats.

Years ago when I worked for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, I covered the story of a hat shop in the town that had been closed for decades after the owner went into a nursing home. She died and the estate needed to settle up, so they opened the store and sold all the remaining hats. It was like opening a time capsule; it was like Christmas morning.  After I filed my story I hustled back as a shopper, gathering up hats with feathers, some with veils, all of them cool and priced to reflect the era they came from.

I sometimes wore them to weddings, but, sadly, they mostly came out at Halloween, particularly the year I dressed as Joan Crawford in “Mommy Dearest.” Joan may not have been much in the parenting department, but girlfriend certainly could wear a hat.

I’ve had the beach hats — worn only at the beach — and tried to look sassy in a baseball cap, but somehow the shape of my head doesn’t make that work. A couple of winter Olympics ago, all the athletes wore these fabulous navy blue berets and when they flashed an 800 number where they could be ordered I was right on it.

So, I have a thing for hats, yet at the same time I am not always entirely comfortable in my own hat — maybe because so few other women are wearing them, maybe because I don’t really want to stand out in a crowd. Or, possibly, I fear being a crazy old lady, not just with cats, but also with hats. 

The way my mauve, wide-brimmed hat shielded me on the hottest day of the summer got me over that real quick, so much so that I went back and bought one in straw with an even broader brim.

But comfort was just part of how I got over my hat anxiety, the rest came when I was walking down the street and a woman slowed her car, rolled down the window, letting out a blast from the air conditioner, and shouted: “I love your hat!”

— Nancy Luse writes from Frederick, Md., and no longer worries about hat hair.

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