Mostly us gals tell ourselves that men have no radar for fashion, that they pretty much see us as blurry outlines with breasts. But now we have Mr. Sensitive Novelist Guy telling us otherwise. In "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," Dave Eggers writes, "Though it becomes clear early on, after she wears a beret one day, of purple velour, that we're not meant to be . . . ."
A beret of purple velour. Great. This is enough to fuel any woman's paranoia that a single accessory can doom a relationship. Or a fashion reputation. Take Monica Lewinsky. CNN footage nailed her on Nov. 6, 1996, wearing a beret, hugging Clinton in a crowd meet-and-greet with an adoring-yet-knowing-I'm-with-the-band look plastered on her face. By then we all knew the reason. But why the not-exactly-au courant headpiece? This just fed the firestorm. She had an affair with the president and she wore bad hats? The nerve!
But really, how could Monica know from hats? She's from L.A., and anyone can tell you L.A. is a tough-hat town. Pick any other major city in the country and you'll find a hat alibi. New York: snow. Chicago: wind. Dallas: Texas. Here, where it's
ostensibly summer 10 months of the year, anyone brave enough to wear more than a backward baseball cap within city limits is usually stared down until said headpiece is resigned to a high closet shelf. Since dressing up in this dressed-down burg went the way of the woolly mammoth, covering one's head for purely decorative reasons is as absurd to most Angelenos as wearing a bustle. Somewhere in the city charter it must clearly state, "We may slather ourselves with sun block, but we don't wear hats, dammit!" Aside from the ever-present industry-logo ball caps (and they don't count) and the ever-dorky sun visors (fanny packs for the head), there's only a sprinkling of truly iconoclastic headgear in this city.
What's it all about? Fear of wearing the Wrong Hat. The Wrong Hat is the No. 1 accessory--and I mean way beyond a 10-inch bamboo cigarette holder--for humiliating you beyond belief. The Wrong Hat is like wearing an enormous sign, duct-taped to a plumber's helper stuck to your head, that says, "I'm a moron."
After years of being hatless, my epiphany occurred last summer during swimming lessons. As my little darlings learned the backstroke, I could practically hear the crow's feet forming on my face. When I finally noticed that even the instructors wore hats--in the pool!--I was determined to find some relief.
I was one of the lucky ones. Thank God I'd already gotten a grip on my own personal style--think Shelley Winters in "Lolita" crossed with Exene. Finding the right hat would be a snap, right? I'd occasionally seen people wearing those cute, crushy Gilligan numbers and wondered if I could pull it off. Bargain hunter that I am, I first stopped at Target, but none of their hats came close to fitting my enormous head. I took this as a sign to spend much more money. At the fabulous and upscale Drea Kadilak, a girly womb of a hat shop at 6th Street and La Brea Avenue, I found hat nirvana. Here they not only have the right hat, they know that with the right hat comes the right hat attitude. Even if you're just trolling the aisles of Pic 'N' Save, you too can wear a hat that inspires envy--that you've thought of something brilliant, something that should have occurred to others years ago, if only they'd thought of it, dammit!
Is this not the basis of all fashion--to inspire envy in others? Sure, you can tell yourself it's all about self-expression and positive self-image and creativity. But, ultimately, you want others to yearn for what you have: the unbridled nerve to make anything work for you.
I like to imagine that I have achieved this. Now I love wearing my hats, even if people study me as though I'm balancing a standing rib roast on my head. There is a beat, and then they say, "I love that hat on you!" Naturally, L.A. being our nation's capital of insincerity, they could be trying to cover up for staring so hard. But I like to take it as a compliment.