The Onassis-Bruni Effect

August 24, 2009

This summer the confirmation took place: the Pillbox hat is back. Both at the Del Mar racetrack and at the Ascot Racecourse we saw it: the Pillbox is the new trend. The signature headgear of Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn, modeled with overwhelming relevance by Grace Kelly and Carla Bruni, has been not only officially reestablished as the trend of the racecourse sophistication, but also positioned as a street fashion that will take the runways this fall.

In a fine article published today in stuff.co.nz Judy Coomber, Myer’s director of apparel, says, “Certainly this season we see a trend towards refined dressing so the pillbox and cocktail-style hats are very relevant…The pillbox hat was a huge trend in the 1960s and this season there are many interpretations from sweet, refined, petite shapes to more exaggerated, grander styles.”

We are not talking about the chip-strapped Pillbox worn in the army, typical of the Commonwealth headgear. We are talking about a small woman’s hat with a flat crown and straight, upright sides; the one that inspired the ironic Bob Dylan 1966 song, Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat, which goes like this:

Well, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Yes, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Well, you must tell me, baby
How your head feels under somethin’ like that
Under your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Well, you look so pretty in it
Honey, can I jump on it sometime?
Yes, I just wanna see
If it’s really that expensive kind
You know it balances on your head
Just like a mattress balances
On a bottle of wine
Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Well, if you wanna see the sun rise
Honey, I know where
We’ll go out and see it sometime
We’ll both just sit there and stare
Me with my belt
Wrapped around my head
And you just sittin’ there
In your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Well, I asked the doctor if I could see you
It’s bad for your health, he said
Yes, I disobeyed his orders
I came to see you
But I found him there instead
You know, I don’t mind him cheatin’ on me
But I sure wish he’d take that off his head
Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Well, I see you got a new boyfriend
You know, I never seen him before
Well, I saw him
Makin’ love to you
You forgot to close the garage door
You might think he loves you for your money
But I know what he really loves you for
It’s your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Mister Tambourine Man took the Pillbox hat, and smashed to the point of putting it in its most degusting and cheesiest level. But that was ages ago, and now the Pillbox emerges as a new, refreshing thing, something both subtle and neat. “If you live long enough, everything comes back into style,” says the adage, and the Pillbox proofs that to Mister Dylan.

 

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A hat is not an accessory. Or maybe it is, but only technically. Because really, its more significant feature is that a hat is a piece of identity, one that not only distinguishes a person as a matchless one, but also one that will remain in our mentalities for a long time.

Millions of thousands of bandits are sentenced everyday in America. Moreover, America is the country that sentences more bandits in the world. Therefore, it’s extremely difficult for a bandit to stand out over the other bandits. So what makes a bandit stand out over his colleagues?

A hat.

Many websites and newspapers are reporting today that William Turner, 58, was sentenced last Monday to 16 years in Los Angeles Federal Prison because he pleaded guilty last fall to six holdups, despite the fact that investigators believed he was responsible for 33 others, including a Citibank branch in Pasadena that was held up the week before his arrest in June 2007. Now, what’s the difference between Mr. Turner and other ordinary, unknown burglars? L.A Times has the answer:

Turner’s headgear included fishing hats, fedoras and baseball caps. Previously, he earned the nickname Pershing Square Bandit for a string of robberies in downtown Los Angeles dating back to the early ’70s, for which he received a 15-year sentence.

Turner’s robberies weren’t the motive of his 15 minutes of fame. Rather, it was his style: an eclectic use of different hats that marks him as a funky old bandit. 

(In the picture, courtesy of The FBI, The ‘Goofy Hat Bandit’ with a fishing topper.)

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There is a piece that stands out over the rest in the current exhibition “America on the Move” at the National Museum of American History: a white cap with a snap brim made for Stockton head-wear company Dorfman Pacific.

The main character of the story (picture) is Herb Mills, a longtime member and officer of ILWU Local 10 in San Francisco. The Recordnet.com interviewed him and this is a hint:

He wore the cap for those purposes before donating it along with other artifacts from his maritime career, such as a hard hat and various cargo hooks, to the Smithsonian.

“I’ve got a white cap on right now,” Mills said Tuesday by telephone from his Berkeley home. “It’s a public acknowledgement that you’re a longshoreman.”

At union functions he would wear what once was a nearly universal uniform for dock workers, the “Stetson,” a blue-and-white striped work shirt called a “hickory” and black denim pants, “what we called back then Frisco jeans.”

The museum in particular focused on the transformation of the ports of San Francisco and Oakland from the 1960s to the 1970s as maritime transportation shifted largely from loose cargo to having nearly everything packed into standardized containers.

Where longshore workers once used hooks, hand trucks and pure muscle to move boxes, bales, bags, cases and pallets, oversized machines took over plucking the truck-trailer-size steel boxes from ships’ holds.

“San Francisco was the major port since the Gold Rush, and now there’s not an ounce of cargo that goes through there,” Mills said. Nearly all the trade has shifted to Oakland with its giant banks of container cranes.

Eight triangular sections of cloth form a circle and meet in a white button at the top. Often called the “West Coast Stetson,” this white cotton cap with a visor that snaps to the upper part of the cap was worn by West Coast mariners, particularly longshoremen and sailors. Black “Frisco” jeans and a “hickory,” a blue and white striped shirt, went along with this soft cap that was once a signature part of “the usual rig” that men wore to express their occupational identity. It also had a safety function: as they could be spotted even in the dark holds of ships by men on deck who were lifting and lowering heavy sling loads. By the early 1970s, it became obligatory to wear hardhats, since working aboard vessels and on the docks was a very risky occupation. Today, however, longshoremen still wear the “West Coast Stetson” at special union meetings and events.

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Get ready, you hat-wearer. You have few days more to prepare for the celebration of the celebrations, the party of parties, the one event in America that gathers the top of the top of the toppers. It’s not the Oscars, it’s not the Vanity Fair Parties, it’s not the VMA’s. It is the Del Mar Race Track, the thoroughbred racing track at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in the seaside of Del Mar, California, 20 miles north of San Diego. 

It was August 12, 1938, when the Del Mar Club hosted a 25-grand, winner-take-all match race between Charles S. Howard’s Seabiscuit and Binglin Stable’s colt, Ligaroti. It wasn’t just a race. It was actually one of the most popular events in American sports, ranking as the second most important sports event of the year, after the World Series. Here is when Seabiscuit, ridden by Goerge Woolf, won against Ligaroti, ridden by Noel Richardson, in an exciting battle by a nose that has gone throughout time as the most thrilling battle in horse races ever.

 

In 1940 Del Mar became the summer recreational area for many Hollywood stars. Say, Sinatra and Bob Hope. And it hasn’t changed a lot since then.

That’s the event starting next July 22nd.

And here is the icing on the cake: the Del Mar racecourse is one of the most important hat gatherings of the year in America. It would be libel to compare this with Ascot, with all its royalty, tradition and pomposity. However, it gets close. And even though the hats get sometimes a bit flashy and gaudy, the whole event must be  a major concern for us, in this hat-appreciation space.

Before the race begins, a subtler event takes place: “The One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest.” “People don’t just go to Del Mar for the betting,” hat contest organizer Julie Sarno said to La Jolla Light. “There is a beauty and pageantry and tradition to it that people enjoy. And Del Mar is such a beautiful racetrack, being so close to the ocean – it is really a resort experience.”

This year’s contestants will be judged in four categories: best racing theme, funniest and most outrageous, most glamorous, best flowers and all others. Hat wearers display their hard work during the Hat Parade, and category winners are then invited into the paddock for an awards ceremony. The grand-prize winner will walk away with a 42-inch Toshiba LCD TV this year. 

Diana Cavagnero, a local hat designer and owner of the hat boutique Designer Millinery, has seen the hat contest transform Opening Day into much more than a chance to bet big.

“Del Mar’s Opening Day has become the biggest fashion show of the year – 40,000 people all dressed to the nines and having a big party,” she said.

This season, Cavagnero says to expect yellow-, coral- and plum-colored hats in addition to the always-popular black and white. Sheer fabrics and lace will also be big. And while oversized, floppy hats are synonymous with racing season, Cavagnero said small cocktail hats have been in high demand lately, especially for the racing season. 

So, please, let’s take a look at this outstanding, beyond-time hat generation. After you, my dear sir. 

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We insist: a hat is a matter of life and death; the breaking point of your life. Now, is this country crazy?

Well, lets see: Three residents of Quincy, Illinois, town known as the “Gem City”, have been arrested for the theft of a hat from the grave of an Adams County Sheriff. Kayla S. Harris, 26, and her mother, Pamela S. Harris, 48, were arrested and charged with felony theft after they took The Sheriff’s hat because, as they said, they wanted to give it as a present to Kayla’s boyfriend, Anthony Kroeger, 23, who was also charged, him with obstruction and misdemeanor possession of stolen property. If found guilty, each of them (picture) will face up to six years in prison.

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The Sheriff is the personification of the American Cowboy identity, as Ronald Reagan and The Bushes showed to the world. Therefore, it should be a matter of respect and veneration. Just as the American flag should be respected and ruled with set of codes that regulate its use, the Sheriff’s hat should be part of the symbols that this country must not only respect, but also honor. Careful, then, you don’t want to shoot the sheriff, or take his hat, even if it is in self-defense.

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Yes, we are here to develop and encourage hat wearing and appreciation. But in a fun, witty way, and not in the Museum of North Texas History, Wichita Falls, Texas. Sorry, Mr. Flemming, but it’s just somewhat depressing.

As a matter of fact, Nat Flemming has collected old cowboy hats for fifty-four years. He started collecting them as he opened his store called The Cow Lot in 1953. Close to the middle of nowhere, in the sort of scene we saw in No Country For Old Men, this exhibit could be the worst mistake you could ever make if you are interested in toppers, since you don’t want to listen to a one-hour speech on how a respectful, mature, old-fashioned cowboy monotonously collected hundreds of dusty hats in fifty years. Keep it simple: keep it New York. 

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Well, no quite. But two articles were published in the past two days, and one could think they want to delve into the hat scene. However, far from being accurate, the reporting is not very successful.

The first one, published yesterday and titled Al Capone, Malcolm X, Pacquiao: How to rock proper toppers, is based on this now-common thesis that states that hats aren’t thriving among the younger generations. We are here to contradict that statement and to assure readers that, even though we don’t witness a society covered in hats, as some did in the ’30s, it is completely vague to ignore the hat generation taking place nowadays, especially in New York, city, by the way, where The Examiner is written. The author, Michael Marley, in an awkwardly redacted piece, develops the idea we read in Hatless Jack, the book by Neil Steinberg: since President Kennedy’s hatless presentation, the hat landscape is plunging. We believe they’re wrong, since, in the past five to ten years, fedoras and Kangols are taking the runway. Examples? Read this blog tomorrow, the day after and so on.

One example, though, is the Ascot Racecourse, a clear illustration that shows how hats go beyond time and keep ruling the world of fashion. In fact, there’s an article in today’s Examiner about it, by Karen Dawson, in which we are told the basic tips to wear a hat in Britain’s biggest hat party. One, for instance, that an important element to wearing a topper is wit, confidence and a special personality that imposes style.

Is The Examiner reporting on hats? Lets hope so, but the start has been quite awkward and shaky. Keep trying.

The previous speaks by itself. But the exaggeration doesn’t stop there. 

Since the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, one that attracts more than 1.2 million visitors a years, starts in two weeks, its promoters are giving away 10,000 free cowboy hats. In Alberta, Canada, on Stephen Avenue at noon tomorrow, they are giving out cowboy hats to pedestrians gracing the downtown street as if they were giving free food in Somalia. The campaign, called “Get Your Head in a Hat”, has given more than 40,000 free hats in the last three years. During the Festival, patrons can win one of 100,000 prizes—totaling more than $3.2 million in value—for wearing their cowboy hats. Prizes include flights, rodeo tickets and gift certificates. The celebration of Cowboy Diplomacy.

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People, but most of all in America, wear sweaters with their college logo or name. It’s the first thing they buy when they get accepted to College, that letter they wait anxiously every single day after the application period is over. Americans feel profoundly attached to their college Institution; they love, defend and honor their school. The peak part of that college identity is the graduation ceremony, when they sing the songs and all the passion from their school shows itself in an ardent euphoria. What they don’t know, however, is that the moment of climax, when they throw up their mortarboards, could kill them.

That’s what an article in the dailypress.com said and freaked me out. Since the cardboard is made with some kind of hard wood, the hats have become one of the most frightening dangers in school. What is unbelievable is that the article manages to give some examples in which students’ lives were threatened. Does this mean that this is a dangerous tradition? Should American Colleges sacrifice this hundred-year-old ritual in order to save their young prodigies’ lives? More than that, I think, the point is that the dailypress.com should get better reporters.