October 10, 2012

Chatting about vintage hats with Kathleen

Last month, as you may recall, I posted about how I had the honour of being included in fellow hat lover, Kathleen Lisson's first roundup of hat wearing wearing bloggers on her wonderful blog called That's a Pretty Hat.

In the time between then and now, Kathleen and I have had a chance to delve further into the topic of collecting, wearing and adoring hats, and this week she posted my replies to her many terrific questions on the subject in a series of two posts on her blog.

While I've certainly delved into the topic of vintage hats, as well as my collection, and love, of wearing yesteryear toppers here before numerous times over the years, this series of interview questions is by far the most detailed look at the subject I've put down on virtual paper before, so I wanted to share my answers to all of the questions that appear in both of Kathleen's lovely interviews with all of you here today.

Without further ado, may I present a great many of my thoughts and feelings on, and about, collecting and wearing vintage hats.

Can you share a story about the first time you wore a hat? Mine was an Easter hat when I was five or six years old. How did wearing a hat make you feel back then?

The first distinct memory that I have of wearing a hat was when I was just three years old. Shortly before my forth birthday, my mom's only sister, Lori, got married and I had the honour of being the couples' flower girl.

My outfit consisted of a cute little pink and white dress and matching straw hat. I loved that hat (and dress) and kept in on a shelf in my childhood bedroom while I was growing up. When I wore that hat I remember feeling very stylish and mature - like the adult ladies in my family and my mother's friends when they'd dress up for formal or important events (this being the 80s, plenty of women still wore hats to parties, on dates, etc).

{Here I am at age three pictured with my Aunt Lori, on her wedding day, in the first - completely cute - hat I can distinctly remember wearing. It's entirely possible my love of hats started on this very day!}

Though it's showing its age a little, to this day - some twenty-five years later - I still have my first "grownup" hat and love it just as much as I did when I was a youngster (even though it's been far too small for me to wear since I was about nine or ten years old).

What was your first vintage hat? I recently bought a Schiaparelli faux fur hat and I like daydreaming about the classy ladies that wore it before me.

How marvelously exciting that you acquired a Schiaparelli. Her work was so imaginative, cutting edge and whimsical! I don't have any hats in my collection from world famous designers, but always keeping my eye peeled for them at yard sales and thrift stores - so you never know!

My first vintage was a relatively basic black felt bonnet (sans brim) style number that I bought because I really liked it and could see it working well with a huge number of different outfits. Indeed it did - and still does to this day.

How does wearing a vintage hat make you feel?

Proper. I know that might seem like an odd adjective to go with, but when I wear a vintage hat I feel like I'm dressing the way that people (both men and women) are supposed to in many situations. The eschewing of hats by both sexes is such a new development in the history of the western world, and clearly one that I've never been on board with. When I wear a vintage hat (or any beautiful, classically styled topper, for that matter) I feel like I'm helping to really pull my whole outfit together and like I'm giving a nod of heartfelt respect to the styles and people that I so admire from the past.

Do you think it is OK to mix decades when it comes to matching hats and clothes?

I've always, steadfastly, been a big proponent of the belief that fashion is what each individual makes of it. While you may look at someone and think to yourself, "I'd never wear in a million years wear that outfit!", it might make the person wearing it incredibly happy, confident, and stylish to their mind and that's what matters. There's no right and wrong when it comes to fashion as whole, just want works for each of us, so to that end, I'm totally fine if people want to mix clothes and hats from various decades.

I wear 1940s and 50s looks, and some of the clothes, hats and accessories in my wardrobe can work seamlessly for either decade, so in that respect I do sometimes even mix decades a bit myself.

What are some qualities you look at when choosing a good vintage store or online shop?

Due to the fact that I live in a relatively small town that has only one vintage store (which tends to lean heavily towards the 60s and 70s, as opposed to the 40s and 50s) that's only open part of the year, I tend to buy the vast majority of my vintage clothes and hats at online from etsy first and foremost, followed by eBay.

When looking at vintage sellers and their hat listings on etsy (and eBay), you have to take people at their word to a certain degree. Clear, detailed photos are often a great way to get a sense of a hat's quality and if you feel it really is from the period that the seller is claiming (I find that hats usually do hail from the decade the seller says, but you want to be careful, as I certainly have seen sellers - either unknowingly or not - list hats from the 80s and 90s as being from the 20s - 50s).

If I'm buying from a seller for the first time, I like to check out their feedback, see how much information they provide in their listing, and ask any and all questions I might have before buying. I live in Canada and usually have to pay much more than those in the US would to have a hat sent up here from an American seller, so it's very important to me that I feel confident with the hat I'm buying before I go through with a sale.

I've not yet had the great pleasure of visiting a store (I wonder if Canada has any still?) that just specifically sold vintage hats, but when shopping at vintage clothing stores in various parts of the country, I apply the same principles, always asking to try on the hat before I buy, too, and inspecting it with a proverbial fine tooth comb for any significant flaws, stains, etc that might be deal breakers.

If you like wearing fashions from a certain decade (or decades), then, if possible, you may want to try and find vintage clothing sellers who specialize in carrying items from those years, as they're often more apt to have a wide selection, and broader knowledge on, the types of hats you're hoping to find.

Where do you find good vintage hats? Do you have any secret places to shop or recommended sellers on the Internet?

A great vintage hat can spring up anywhere, and I constantly keep my eyes peeled for them wherever I may be. I've found a couple of wonderful 1950s hats at the Salvation Army thrift store here in town, as well as some (very occasionally) at local yard sales. I love these sources as they often are your best bet nowadays for amazing deals on quality vintage hats.

I pretty much just shop for hats online on etsy and eBay and generally buy from a wide array of sellers on those sites. Everyone I've bought hats from so far as been a dream to do business with, so I'd definitely recommend those sites to anyone with an interest in vintage toppers.

One site I've heard positive things about (and certainly where I've spent a bit of time daydreaming before myself) and which includes a really nice array of vintage hats is Dorothea's Closet Vintage. This seller stocks clothing and accessories from the 1800s right up to the 1980s, so there's a good chance most vintage hat fans can find a topper or two there that sets their heart aflutter.

What are your tips on evaluating a vintage hat? What are some factors that make you decide not to purchase a hat?

When buying a vintage hat, I evaluate it much as I would other types of vintage clothing. I first make sure it's my size (or close enough so that it will fit - always veering, if need be, on the side of larger instead of smaller), then I study all available photos carefully, looking for any conditional issues that the seller might not have listed or may have accidentally overlooked. If need be, I don't hesitate to politely ask the seller for additional photos before buying.

Many vintage hats have held up remarkably well considering their age, and it's not hard to find one in excellent shape still. I'm fine with hats that have a little wear and tear, inconspicuous stains (to the lining, for example, or hidden under netting), ultra small holes (from moths, hat pins, etc), or other minor issues. I'm a big fan of hats with a bit of netting (veiling) on them, and it's not uncommon (given the the immensely delicate nature of netting) to find (be it online or in person) vintage hats that have damaged netting. In some cases the rips/runs are hidden in the overall netting pattern, but sometimes you need to either wear the netting up on the hat (which often looks so lovely, I think) or to remove it and, if so desired, replace it with a new piece of netting.

I've been buying and looking at vintage hats for many years now, so I'd say that the largest factor when it comes to buying a hat or not is often price. Because I follow the vintage market very carefully and have a general sense of what most types of 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s hats generally sell for (especially online), if I saw a hat I loved but thought it was massively overpriced, I'd be very hesitant to buy it. I'd first do an extensive online search for similar (or identical) hats and if I found one or more selling for less (assuming the seller was reputable), I'd opt for that one instead.

In terms of conditional issues, I'm somewhat forgiving and find that a lot of small issues (say a missing flower on a flower covered cap or a tiny pinhole) are almost (if not completely) impossible to see once you're wearing the hat. If a hat was really damaged or had multiple conditional issues, I'd likely pass on it, unless I was buying it for a steal and planned on simply using it as a display piece and/or only for photo shoots.

Do you have any resources for fixing or mending vintage hats?

To date - knock wood! - I've not had to do any serious mending to vintage hats I've purchased, but in general I would suggest that a person try to find a local milliner (which, I know, is not something every town has any more), bridal wear expert, costume designer (theater companies are a great place to turn for such folks), top-notch seamstress, conservation expert (check local museums and historical societies), or fellow vintage hat wearer with experience and knowledge on the subject, if you're looking to have a seriously damaged piece repaired.

When it comes to cleaning vintage hats, a couple of techniques I've had good success with are to use a hair dryer (on a cool/cold low setting) to whisk away the dust and debris that may have built up over the years (a fabric lint roller can work great in this regard, too, especially on sturdy felt and wool hats), spot washing (always do a trial spot washing check on the inside of the hat if you're concerned that water might damage the material of the outer hat) with water, and if needed, a small bit of baby shampoo (or shampoo for ultra sensitive skin). A gentle sponge, tooth brush, or plush wash cloth are all handy when using water (and soap, if applicable) on vintage hats. You'll want to ensure you only get your hat a tiny bit damp at a time and that you thoroughly dry it in a well ventilated area before wearing or storing it.

If you've picked up a vintage hat and you feel like it's gotten a tad warped out of shape over the years, you can sometimes use a little bit of (gentle!) steam to help shape it again (use your best judgement when it comes to the materials the hat is made of and if they'll stand up to the heat and moisture of steam), or alternatively buy an inexpensive wig stand or styrofoam prop head (sometimes found at craft stores) and gently shape the hat around that, letting it sit there for at least a few days to help mold itself to the desired head shape.

What are your feelings about shopping at thrift versus vintage stores versus online?

I love all of these sources and encourage those with an interest in vintage hats to avail of all three. Generally speaking, vintage stores (especially these days, where vintage sellers know that there is a lot of demand for what they're supplying) charge higher prices then thrift stores, but I've heard tales south of the 49th about thrift stores that are now selling vintage goods at nearly the same rates as actual vintage stores, so that old hard and fast may be gradually going out the window.

Shopping online entails the convenience of being able to shop whenever, wherever you'd like, and to have a huge array of hats just wanting for you to browse thorough. Vintage hats vary widely - and wildly! - in terms of cost, and I've really noticed a sharp increase (over all) in hat prices over the past couple of years, but good deals can certainly still be had, especially if you're shopping for less ornate and/or rare styles. So between the lure of a good bargain and ample selection, shopping for vintage hats online hold a lot of appeal.

The main drawback is that, in almost all cases (excluding a local seller who might allow you to see their merchandise before buying), you can't try the hat on before you buy it. If you're new to wearing/buying vintage hats or are buying a style you haven't worn before, this can certainly be a negative side to online shopping. Generally speaking though, if the hat is listed as being your size (make sure you measure your hat, with your hair in as natural a style as possible, before embarking on buying vintage hats), is in good shape, and you feel like it will look good on you, it probably will, so I see no reason to shun online hat shopping, even when it comes to the most novice of collectors.

Do you have any tips or links to vintage hat hairstyle tips or tutorials?

In days gone by women often often opted for hairstyles (including their perm settings) that would easily accommodate for various hairstyles, but nowadays that's a thought that few (especially outside of the vintage world) have ever paused to think about.

Each era had its own distinct hair and hat styles, but (very) generally speaking, if you're going to be wearing a hat that covers all (or almost all) of the top (and possibly part of the sides) of your heads, you'll want to stick with styles that aren't overly voluminous (e.g., Betty Grable's iconic mass of curls on the top of her head) and which will still look good once you've removed your chapeau (if you're planning to that day, I mean).

Soft waves, curls on the lower portion of the hair, some types of bangs (or faux bags), rolls (worn on the forehead or at the nap of the neck), chignons, low set buns (at the back of the neck), braids, and even pigtails can all be great choices (just depending on your hair's length, type, and cur factor) for hat wearers.

When wearing a vintage hat that's going to cover most (or all) of the top of my head, I usually do a 40s or early 50s inspired (wet) pin or rag curl set the night before, brush it in the morning so that the volume is towards the ends and either pin the sides back or let them fall around my face.

Sometimes though, if I'm using second day hair or if sometime comes up and I'm not able to plan my hair in advance, I'll do a nice little chignon or low set roll at the back of my neck, often in conjunction with a faux bang roll in the front instead. Just as one picks their hats with their event or destination in mind, so too do you want to opt for a hairstyle that works for what you have ahead of you. If in doubt, a classic bun or chignon (if your hair is long enough to create one) without pieces sticking out, is an elegant option for most any occasion.

How do you store your vintage hats, do you take any special precautions?

Earlier this year we moved into a wonderful little condo with two floors and a basement, so for the first time I have enough wall space to be able display many of my hats on small, round ended hooks on one wall in an upstairs bedroom (which we're using as a library). I feel very fortunate to have this space, as it's something I've dreamed about for ages. Actually, I need to get some more hooks soon, as not all of my hats have been hung yet (but there's space for them, if we work around the upper perimeter of the room).

Prior to this, and for those that are not yet on the wall, I was storing my hats in some sturdy cardboard boxes that we got when we bought all new matching clothes hangers a while back. The boxes are designed somewhat like pizza boxes, only a larger (especially in terms of height) and were a great way to carefully store a few hats together in the (relatively) compact same space (these boxes could then be put on a closet shelf and taken down as needed).

If I'm planning on storing a hat (or hats) for a long time between uses or if I'm moving, I'll be sure to pack it securely in archival (acid free) tissue paper and to stuff the hat with tissue, if needed, to help it maintain its shape.

Vintage hat boxes are a great option, too, but they can be hard to find in some areas (depending on where you live) and often command as much - or more! - than vintage hats themselves, so this might not be the most cost effective option for everyone.

Instead you may wish to use to shelves (decorative, bookshelves, unused pantry, etc), hooks, hangers with clips (only for some types of sturdy hats though), cubbyhole storage units (such as Ikea's Expedit unit), wig stands, hat racks and stands, decorative mantles (not those that still oversee fires), dresser or vanity top, plastic storage containers (under the bed style ones can be great if you're short on space), decorative boxes, suitcases (extra style points if they're vintage!), or spare closet (with built in shelves or shelving you add yourself) to store your collection.

No matter where you put your hats, try to keep them out of direct sunlight, away from bugs and critters (be it family pets or uninvited vermin), extreme temperatures, excess moisture, harsh fumes, and curious children who may have a hankering to play dress up with your prized vintage hat collection.

If well cared for and properly stored, many vintage hats should continue to hold up well for decades more to come, even if you wear them sometimes (speaking of which, you may want to avoid using strong hair care products, soaps, and perfumes on your hair and skin when wearing a vintage hat, least these substances, or the residue from them, damage materials such as delicate silk, velvet or satin).

♥ ♥ ♥

If you're not already following Kathleen's blog, I highly suggest checking it out, as it's a true must for those with an interest in modern and vintage hats alike. As well, do be sure to swing by both halves of the interview (Vintage Hat Wearer Jessica Cangiano and How to Buy a Vintage Hat Online) over at That's a Pretty Hat, as Kathleen has done a great job of partnering photos of me in various vintage hats with these detailed questions.

Thank you very, very much for your keen interest in my passion for old school chapeaus, dear Kathleen, it's been a joy and a real honour chatting about this topic with you so much lately, and I really look forward to future discussions on this subject.

I know that many of of you are also vintage fan hats, whether you sport them yourself, too, of simply admire their timeless beauty, and would love to hear your thoughts on this fascinating, stylish topic as well anytime, my dears.


  1. Hi Jessica! I soooo enjoyed reading this post! I just love the darling picture of you and your aunt Lori...you were clearly stylish right from the word go! I have always been a little scared of wearing hats in case thet didn't suit me. Then, a couple of winters ago I sewed myself a felt hat, and now I'm hooked. I only purchased my first vintage hat this past summer, and I'm hoping to do a post on it soon. Thank you for a lovely, inspiring post once again! Tania ♥

    1. How wonderful, Tania! I'd love to see your handmade of store bought hats any time. You have such a markedly beautiful style, and I'm sure that all of your hats looks absolutely sublime on you, dear gal.

      Many thanks for your lovely comment,
      ♥ Jessica

  2. Great tips about vintage hats!! I've recently been investing in hats and I agree that it is so difficult to online shop for them. They may look great on a plastic heads but when you put them on is a different story.

    I've been on the lookout for some archival storage boxes for hats. I'm glad you talked about proper storage because this is an important point. I'd love to see pictures of your hat collection:)
    The photo of you and your aunt is so precious! You had beautiful blond hair as a little girl:) She looks just like she could be your mum:)


    1. Thank you very much, Joanna. So true, I do very much look like I could have been my aunt's daughter her, which just makes me love this sweet photograph all the more.

      Once I've got some more hooks and hung those hats that are still residing in cardboard storage boxes at the moment, I'll definitely be taking snaps of my "hat wall" to share here (can't wait!).

      ♥ Jessica

  3. Great interview....love the tips on hat cleaning, wearing, and storing!!

  4. Hi Jessica,

    As a fellow lover/collector/obsessor/(and seller) of vintage hats, I was THRILLED to come across your blog through a google alert. First of all- the picture of you in flower girl attire is just precious(!) and took me back to remember how hats had same transformative effect on me when I was little. I wore a little hat and dress to my cousin's engagement party when I was 8 or so. Insta-lady!

    I read through your interview responses, and I found myself answering those same questions in my head. The greatest thing to me is just how differently I responded to many of the questions-- which is EXACTLY what I love about wearing vintage in general- the uniqueness that accompanies the outfit! [ok, let's face it- I also love the attention I get walking down Broadway wearing something show-stopping on my head...]

    Thank you for posting this, and for introducing me to your friend's blog- now I have 2 new worlds to discover!

    1. Hi Tova,

      Thank you very much for your comment! I've been a fan of your wonderful etsy shop for some time now and was delighted to see a comment from you arrive today. I completely agree that having different takes on wearing vintage is important. If we all thought and dressed alike, there really wouldn't be much variety out there to admire, appreciate and garner inspiration from. By all means, feel free to share some of your answers to these questions with me anytime you'd like. :)

      ♥ Jessica

    2. Would love to chat with you anytime! Really!

      ps. I wrote this in a comment on Kathleen's blog, but I should tell you the same as well--the pictures of you are MAGNIFICENT!

    3. Thank you very much - I will pass your kind words on Tony first thing in the morning. He takes pretty much all the photos of me, I then edit/post process them as needed, and the end team effort is what you see here (and in Kathleen's post).

      Hope we get a chance to chat more about hats.

      ♥ Jessica

  5. I love this interview! It is so insightful that I think I am going to put it on Pinterest so that I can look at it whenver I want. I've always loved vintage hats and started collecting a few years ago. I've also refurbished a couple that I bought while thrifting. Oh and btw...that picture is so adorable!!! I can remember my first hat as well. It was white with 3 tiny white flowers on the front of it. I wore that for as long as I could!

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, I will for sure be using it!

    Jessie Lou

    1. Awww, how sweet that you can remember your first hat as well. It sounds really cute (do you still have it, too?). It's awesome that you have a vintage hat collection of your own on the go.

      Do you were your hats or prefer to (just) collect and display them? There's so much beauty and artistry that went in vintage hats that no matter what one does with them, there's a vintage hat (or a hundred!) out there for everyone with a passion for them.

      ♥ Jessica

  6. What a wonderful post! Many women seem to think that not everyone could look good in a hat,and that's simply not true! Growing up in the 50s we wore lots of hats and our moms always matched their hats with gloves of course. Wide brims with ribbon flowing far down the back, little sailor hats, wool Sherlock Holmes types with ear flaps, bill and straps, berets, pastel Easter bonnets and pill boxes were in young girls' closets. I always loved my mom's veiled hats and thought they were somehow mysterious and elegant. She loved feathers and flowers and wore them freely! Thank you for such an informative and delightful post!

  7. I have had various vintage hats over the years that have come and gone. Sometimes I wonder why I did not keep them, but then I know it was because of a move, and I was being very "sensible" about what I kept. The good part is, I gave them away to people who loved them, so I am okay parting with them.

    They are not so easy to find these days as they used to be.

    I love your post, Jessica!

    :) Hope

  8. Lovely post! I really enjoyed reading this! :)


  9. This time I want to thank you for your many lovely comments on my blog. They're sweeter than sweet and they always brighten up my day.
    I think my first hat was a round straw hat with blue ribbons. It's in my possession until today but it's in the attic. Maybe I'll take it out someday and make a photo. Unfortunately it's much too small for my head today.
    I've collected some vintage hats from fleamarkets too: a black furry one and two green ones but I wear them seldom. They're displayed in my dining room with some selfmade hats. A photo is in my blog too.
    I most often wear berets on a daily basis, not real hats.
    Thanks for your interesting and detailed post. Hugs from Miss Maple

  10. I've wanted to add that you were a super super cute little girl!!!

  11. HOW UNBEARABLY CUTE!! Your mum must have been beside herself with you looking so adorable!! And I'm a great hat lover (although slightly nerous of donning them on the school run!) so loved reading this.

    Janine x

  12. Well, I am SO glad I followed the link from today's post here—I'd been wanting to ask how you store your hats but no longer need to. Mine don't get worn as often as they ought because they're not out where I can see them; thanks to you, I've all sorts of ideas now! Hurrah!

    Though I'd love to see a shot of your collection. You've so many beautiful hats, and I'm sure seeing them all at once would send many of us into a coma of delight, but with all the troubles in the world, why not? ;)

    1. Hello dear Jen, thank you very much for your lovely comment. It's awesome to know that you share my passion for vintage hats. I'm fully and completely addicted to them, and have zero qualms admitting as much! :)

      I don't have my whole collection up by any means (and it's grown since these snaps were taken), but you can see some (not terribly great quality) snaps of my hat wall in this interview I last spring on the wonderful blog Vintage Wife: http://vintagewife.co.uk/2013/04/05/top-of-the-vintage-toppers

      One of these days, mark my words, I will do a post - with better quality photos and more of my collection hung on the wall - devoted to showcasing my beloved collection.

      ♥ Jessica

  13. Jessica, I was hoping you could help me with this. I have a hat that the vintage store gals had me try on one way and my mother says i had it on backwards. Is there am easy way to tell?

    1. Hello my dear, thank you for your question, without seeing the hat myself, it's a bit hard for me to gauge if it's being worn "the right way". Personally, I have several hats that can be worn both backwards and forwards, or to one side and the back or front, with equal success, as each presents its own beautiful shape and looks good on the front. If you like the way your hat appears when worn backwards, rock it that way! It's fabulous to put our own special spins on vintage garments like that.

      ♥ Jessica

      *PS* Here are two posts in which I wear the same hat in two different ways: http://www.chronicallyvintage.com/2012/10/savouring-autumn-at-creek.html and http://www.chronicallyvintage.com/2013/07/vintage-plaid-and-straw-for-windswept.html

  14. Hi I was wondering about steps to sanitize a vintage hat? I know you mentioned cleaning it, but I was wondering if you were ever concerned about anything living in the hats bacteria or lice ect.

    1. Hi Melody, thank you very much for your comment and question regarding the important topic of cleaning a vintage hat in so much as things like parasites and bacteria are concerned.

      I'm leery of giving any sweeping statements on that front, as there will be different factors that come into play in the majority of cases, including what type of material(s) the hat is made from and what type of bacteria, etc you're dealing with.

      Regarding lice specifically, my understanding is that they cannot survive for more than about a month without feasting (usually multiple times a day) on a living host, so unless someone with an active case of head or body lice has been wearing the hat very recently, it is, thankfully, quite unlikely that you'd encounter lice on a vintage hat (bedbugs would be a bit higher risk, but they're - again, thankfully - not a common problem with vintage hats; garments and bed linens are typically at a greater risk for bedbugs).

      In terms of killing bacteria, some general things (again, the materials and even fragility of the hat itself will come into play here) that can be done include heat steaming, (conversely) freezing, spraying with a clear alcohol that has a high alcohol content (e.g., vodka) - though you'd want to be extremely sure that doing so wouldn't damage the hat), and the age old classic of hanging it out (in good, dry weather) on a clothesline in the sunlight to help let Mother Nature zap away some of those nasty elements (bacteria more than bugs).

      Again, as it common for vintage hats to have not been worn for years or even decades, if they're coming from a generally clean environment, most should have relatively low levels of anything that could pose a health risk to the average person. I own, and have also sold, dozens of vintage hats over the years and thankfully to date I've never run into a problem with any of these types of issues.

      I give all of the vintage items I bring into my home a good once over, cleaning, mending, dusting, etc them as needed. If you're not already doing so, I suggest doing the same, as this approach will help you to see most types of potential (visible) issues and take swift action before beginning to wear your new vintage treasure.

      I hope that helps to answer your question and welcome any others that you may have on the topic.

      Wishing you a great week,
      ♥ Jessica