old hat, new hat

Is there another piece of apparel that works as hard as a hat?

A hat can keep the head warm, or protect it from knocks and falls. It can denote support or alliance. Professionally, it can signal an occupation or even rank within that occupation. And as an object of fashion, whether whipped out on a sunny day or carefully chosen for a wedding, a hat will inform all who admire it, of its wearer’s status and taste.

The cultural power of the hat is endorsed by the proliferation of millinery-related phrases. Hat’s off to past linguists who threw their hats in the ring, donned their thinking caps and refused to keep their phrase-coining talents under their hats. I doff my hat to them all.

One of my favourite books is from the Dr Seuss series and is called ‘Old Hat, New Hat’. First published in 1970, it tells a charming tale of young bear who is considering a make-over. His old, brown hat is scruffy and patched with a wilted daisy in the brim. He wonders if a new, smarter hat might prompt a new, improved self and he enters a shop with happy anticipation.

Unfortunately, none of the new hats that he is shown is just right. They are either too big or too small, too flat or too tall. Some are too fancy, some are too frilly, others too. shiny, one is too silly.

Finally he sees a hat he likes. An old, brown, patched hat with a wilted daisy at the brim. For some, it might seem scruffy, but for him, it is just right. He leaves the shop with his old hat and his old self.

It is a wise bear – and person – who can recognise their place and their worth. Like many, I have changed hair-styles, life partners, houses, counties and careers in attempts to find who I am. Some choices were more successful than others. When I first left college, I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. I set my illustrator hat aside for many years as I wasn’t sufficiently mature enough to interpret a piece of text. I did not know how to create images which would to bring something extra to a story.

These days, I am dusting off that hat. I’m working with a Jane Austen tale about the daughter of a milliner who steals a hat and sets off on a day of adventures.

The opening lines are

CASSANDRA was the Daughter & the only Daughter of a celebrated Millener in Bond Street. Her father was of noble Birth, being the near relation of the Dutchess of —-‘s Butler.

I have found two other treatments of the story. One imagines Cassandra as a mouse, the other employs a loose, Japanese inspired watercolour style.

The Beautiful Cassandra by Juliet MacMaster
The Beautiful Cassandra by Leon Steinmetz 

The younger me would have drawn what the words said, coloured it prettily and laid it out tidily on a page. But the older me wishes to highlight the lack of freedom for women at the time. I will show Cassandra as a young girl escaping the constraints of propriety and becoming her own woman. I’m going to start with her trapped in the milliner’s shop, showing her behind bars made from ribbons. She will break free by cutting her way out of the picture frame and then sally forth into the book.

sketchbook. scribbles working out ‘escape’ from Millinery shop
Work in progress: ribbon border with ribbon bars

I’m very excited about this. In an earlier post I discussed how I will explore pattern through the pages. Hopefully, I will create a rich interpretation of the story which is beautiful and engaging to read and I will fill it with ribbons and maps and snippets to be discovered. Like the little bear I have come full circle. My old dream of being an illustrator. has been sitting on a chair in the corner, waiting until I was ready. I have now re-donned this hat and, to me, it looks as thrilling and glamorous as one of Philip Treacy’s finest creations.

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