A Well-traveled Hat
Text and photography by Justine Ariel
Paris in winter: everything appears washed in the dark cream and blue of the city’s rooftops. Women are wrapped in scarves which cling like braces around their necks, complementing their black hats and sweaters. Men on bicycles, or old men walking with their hands tucked in low coat pockets. The cafés full of talk. The silence, the intimacy of streets. The sound of wine being poured into a glass, the words bakers yell at each other in kitchens, the lighting of a match, roses thrown into an open window, a necklace that I wore. A pair of heels that I took off and casually knocked over at the end of the night. A hat resting by the door.
I measure time in hats and travels. When I was a university student I traveled to Paris every winter, and every winter I wore a black beret. That beret was my claim to Paris. I wore it when I worked in a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon and everyone would (jokingly, and in bad accents) speak French to me. I wore it when I played guitar in cafés on the east coast of the US, wanting to be a 1960s folk singer. It was part of my uniform – my costume – and even when I got to Paris I wore it, refusing to think it was clichéd. Because that beret was my dreamworld: it was mythical Paris, it was a fantasy I created about life and love and cities. It was, quite simply, my style.
I have since graduated university, but my attachment to hats and Paris, to style and travel, has stayed with me. Style and travel are built on the same principles of invention and reinvention, of dream and fantasy. The clothes we wear express our identities, moods, and influences. They help us create an identity that is at once recognizable and immensely personal. A new hat, for instance, can accomplish the same feeling as traveling to a new city. Both can bring new adventures, new games, new romances. New thoughts when you wake up in a hotel room somewhere in Vienna. New characters to play as you tour the Austro-Hungarian castle on a hilltop in Budapest.
It’s true: I always play dress up when I travel. The part of me that longs for the extraordinary inspires me to make costumes. Because it isn’t every day I’m in Croatia, or Zambia, or Spain. Linens and cottons and safari jackets, panama hats, long red skirts like a flamenco dancer, riding boots and English hunting coats, a pair of turquoise trousers from Athens. While I normally wear a Parisian uniform (black jeans or trousers, black shoes, black blazer or sweater, black scarf), I have worn all of these things in my travels.
But I also think often of the days when people wore their best to travel. Those "Ingrid-Bergman-in-Casablanca" days. The "Lauren-Bacall-in-To-Have-And-Have-Not" days. All of those days when you’re a displaced heroine and loving every moment of it. Those outfits that stand out. The outfits that say, “You don’t know me, but you’re going to.” These characters require the finesse of personal style and a little imagination, but usually, a hat will do just fine.
Traveling is about excitement and invention, but it doesn’t always have to be about exotic locations. Revisiting a favorite city or even a café in your hometown doesn’t always bring the thrill of new experiences. But, like your favorite old and cosy sweater, like that familiar autumn breeze, it brings the comfort of experience. It can bring to mind the faces of old friends, forgotten tastes, memories of old styles. Sometimes, amidst all of the change and reinvention of travel, it’s nice to realize you haven’t changed that much at all. Like that serendipitous moment when you meet an old love in the street and you’re wearing the same trench coat and hat that you wore two years ago when you last met. This, coincidentally, has only happened to me in Paris: I was wearing a fedora, he was wearing a white oxford and was smoking and writing at a café. I happened to walk by. A perfect Parisian cliché!
Style is travel. Your own personal style may be a journey that lasts for years. It may be never-ending. But even if you go to a local café to write, or to a restaurant with friends, what you wear expresses an essential part of who you are. More importantly, what you wear should free you to fantasize about far-away places and create dreamworlds. I have a pair of shoes handmade in Peru, and every time I walk in them I travel back in time to the 1930s. I’m in a tango hall in Buenos Aires. I’m in an apartment in Montmartre. I’m on a ship bound for Shanghai. I’m leaving Morocco for Granada, never forgetting my hat. This way, I travel every day.