J. P. Powers, lead singer for a band called Divine Rite, commissioned a hat from Marcel for his girlfriend, Lynn. "It had a swirl effect," he said, and was trimmed with a shimmering ribbon in her favorite color, purple.
"She likes hats and I like seeing her in them. It brings out her personality." Has he noticed more people wearing hats? "I don't notice anyone else when I'm with her."
Yes, romance is an essential element of the hat mystique, Oakland-based hatmaker Laurel Fenenga says.
"It's a way to flirt without being vulgar," she explains. "Men like women in hats. It means the women have put an extra effort into getting dressed. It's kind of a compliment."
Anyone who buys a hat from her Oakland retail store, the Milliner, is guaranteed a flattering comment, or "they can come back and exchange it."
The majority of Fenenga's hats are collapsible, in an attempt to solve the "what-do-I-do-with-it-when-I-travel" problem.
Fenenga's spring line of pastel straws is packaged in what looks like a white record jacket. For fall, she works her accordion-pleat effects in suede and rainproof fabrics.
Hats from these designers are not cheap. Their handcrafted styles start at about $95 and escalate to several hundred dollars.
Marjorie Dean, owner and publisher of the Tobe Report, a weekly fashion-industry newsletter, is "surprised at how much people will spend on hats."
"Hat sales have been up and will continue to rise," she says. "It's part of dressing up--you finish it off, top it. Today you can't walk out of the house without thinking about your head. It is a 'now' fashion to wear a hat." If not a hat, then a bow or a special hairdo.
Dean remembers "when hats died a lingering death on the heads of ladies with blue hair." While the days are not back where every major department store has a hat deparment (Bullock's, for example, does not), "you can say that most people now have at least one hat in their wardrobe. People want fun fashion," Dean says.
But hats are not simply decorative. Milliner Katha Casey, who reworks antique hats and sells them at Weathervane Two in Santa Monica, says: "People are taking the sun more seriously" and are wearing hats for protection.
New York designer Kitty Wise agrees. While shopping for a wide-brimmed hat during a recent L.A. visit, she said: "People nowadays are more aware of the ozone."
Sun-soaked Angelenos may be more concerned than others, said Elly Sidel, a Warner Bros. vice president, who keeps her trusty straw hat in the front seat of her Mercedes for those open-sunroof days.