Sunday, December 26, 2010

Adventures in Millinery

Welcome to Les Chapeaux de Coq Mort, my atelier of inspired millinery creations. Doesn't that sound so top-drawer and modish?

I got a hat last summer that happened to be a bargain at under two dollars, since its value was over thirty-- but for various reasons that I'll relate in this post, I never wore it. Then, a couple weeks ago, I came to a startling realization:

I can alter hats the way I alter clothing.

Here is the original hat, as modeled by my stylish assistant, Héloïse Lait-Écrémé. She's a bit empty-headed and heartless, but she's not talkative, so I put up with her. And she has a lovely grecian nose.I'm not sure if it's supposed to be worn as pictured above, or if it's actually a cloche:Now, there was nothing wrong with it, stylistically, the way it was; I know of several people who wear hats with frames like this, and look perfectly elegant. I always wear my hair up when I go out, though, and it won't fit on over my hair. I can ram it on, but then I look like I have a swelled head, and I never like to help people prove their accusations. My hair is much too long altogether to wear a cloche. So it sat on my bookshelf (which is full of books, and hats on top of the books) for about half a year, where I looked at it and tried it on frequently, trying to decide what to do with it.

As a general rule, I don't wear small hats. I tried to wear a pillbox once, and the effect was decidedly underwhelming. My sister, on the other hand, wears small hats perfectly. Part of this is because I have knee-length hair that looks best swept up Gibson Girl-style under a huge brim; I revel in turn-of-the-century styles in general. For a while, though, I've wanted a hat that's not visible at 300 yards, for when I want to fly under certain radars, but hadn't been able to find one that suited me. Recently, while looking at a site of intriguing old photos, I noticed a couple hats from the 1880s that I rather liked, and looked up some fashion plates from that decade.These pages showed me exactly what I was looking for.

The result is not based on any of those hats; further research may reveal that it is a close match (which wouldn't surprise me, with the amount of pictures I've seen in the past), but it is not meant to be "historically accurate," and I'd like to say rather that it is inspired by the styles of the 1880s.

I went out to the craft store and selected some trimmings. This is probably why most hats are so expensive-- I used lower-quality trim, but even if I'd wanted a whole mess of it instead of just a bit, it would've cost me. I wish more places just sold untrimmed hats. I got a yard each of wide and narrow cream satin ribbon, some bronze stripedy pheasant feathers, and some olive-green feathers. Since most of my clothing is either brown, cream, or green, it will match just about anything.

The first thing to do was to alter the hat. After removing the original trim, I measured how much I wanted to lower the crown, and spaced pins around it at equal heights.Then I cut from pin to pin, to completely detach the crown from the brim. At this point, I felt quite daring, like anything could happen. After all, I had just cut a thirty-dollar hat in half.Here's Héloïse wearing the crown. Green eyes are lovely.After cutting down about an inch of the remnant of crown sticking up from the detached brim, I fit the brim back over the crown. For various aesthetic and practical reasons, I shouldn't have done this. Next time, I will put the brim under the crown, or match the ends to each other perfectly. Since I did it this way, though, the join is actually visible from beneath the brim, instead of looking less like a hat from a thrift store that got cut apart and tacked back together.Then, I reattached it, a little lower down. This makes the crown shallower, so I can wear it on the top of my head, above my hair. See the difference from the original?After I was sure the height of the crown was correct, I re-attached the fine-quality petersham ribbon around the inside of the crown. Actually, it was only an old piece of elastic. I also used blue thread, because I was too tired by this point to find anything that actually matched. This also made it look less professional.I could've even just put a ribbon around the crown to hide the new join, and left the hat just like this, but eccentricity got the better of me. Balancing non-symmetrical elements is not one of my strongest points, so this was the best I could come up with. I cocked the right side of the hat, and put in the bunch of green feathers and two pheasant feathers. Six pheasant feathers was overkill, or roadkill, or something. It took me over an hour to get the cream ribbon around the brim smooth; since it's on a curve, it kept coming out lumpish and warped, and every time I detached it, I managed to snag it again until I had only a very short bit to work with. I still might change that part, later. When I first planned the hat, I thought I would sew some thinner ribbon around the edge of the brim, but wasn't sure, because of the bias. Sure enough, the bias crumpled it, but fortunately an edging was a bit of an overload in the first place, and it ended up looking much better without.Here's the view from the other side.One more view. I'm not very handy with a camera, and the flash washed out all the other flash-pictures I tried to take, but this one shows what nice colors the feathers really are. The pheasant feathers are my favorite, and the wispy strands of peacock feathers that play with the light.This has been a demonstration of affordable eccentricity. Here are some reviews from family, friends, and innocent bystanders.
"That is the creepiest hat I have ever seen."
"Did you make that? It's... interesting. Not my style."
"Oh, what a cute hat!"
"It's very pretty."
"You look so handsome."
"You are one of the few people I know who might actually go around with a dead rooster on her head." (In answer to my gleeful declaration that I'd wear it even if it looked like I'd electrocuted a rooster and tied it to my head)
"Ok... that is seriously creepy. What kind of creep wears hats like that?"
"You have too many hats."

No, I don't. But I aspire to someday have too many hats. ^_^


  1. Your fourth picture makes me think of brain surgery for some reason.

    Does Les Chapeaux de Coq Mort mean the Cap is Caput?

  2. Trepanning?
    And that reminds me of Master and Commander...

    It means Dead Rooster Hats, in what is probably abominable French, on purpose. ^_^

  3. Master and Commander is probably why it made me think of brain surgery.

  4. You left out: "Well, at least none of our hats today will occasion comment, since none of them is big enough to have its own weather system."

    Poor Héloïse...on the other hand, if she were empty-headed, heartless, AND talkative, it would most frustrating to have her around.

    May I guess who made the "You are one of the few people I know..." comment?

    Happy Feast of St. John the Evangelist!

  5. Those comments make me think people nowadays must be really narrow-minded in tastes. I can't believe anyone would find that creepy to wear.

    Oh, but you forgot to post a picture of you wearing it in proper ceremonial fashion! ^.^