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Tammy Swift, Published January 11 2009

Just can’t seem to pull off a hat trick

Hold on to your hats: Toppers are back.

Everywhere you look, there are young hipsters decked out in shimmery newsboy hats, fashion-forward fedoras and breezy berets.

Long gone are the days when being cool meant you had to be cold. Sheer vanity forced me to shiver through the entire decade of the 1980s in complete hatlessness. I didn’t want to look like Debbie Gibson, and I was too afraid of crushing my super-frizzed-out Whitney Houston-style ’do.

But I always felt a certain fondness for the milliner’s art. A romantic at heart, I loved how the great costume designers of Hollywood’s Golden Era dressed their stars in fantastically over-the-top toppers – creations that looked like anything from a volcano spouting roses to a glamorous Russian ushanka.

But as movie stars let their hair down, the hat fell by the wayside. Many attribute the death of the man’s hat to John F. Kennedy, whose windblown locks were rarely hidden by a derby. In a world suddenly obsessed with youth, the hat seemed like a stuffy, antiquated fixture of suits and squares.

I do remember a few tentative forays into hat-wearing. After Julia Roberts donned a trendy topper to go to the races in “Pretty Woman,” I actually bought a straw hat and wore it to a friend’s fancy outdoor wedding.

But I felt ridiculous, especially when people said things to me like, “Wow, you’re so brave to wear a hat.” (Um, what does that mean?)

Maybe that’s why I drank too much champagne and “forgot” the hat – which had set me back $17 in 1990 dollars – in the back of a taxi.

When women started wearing baseball caps, a la Janet Jackson, I longed to do the same. What easier way to hide an “I-got-up-25-minutes-before-9-and-didn’t-have-time-to-shampoo” day?

But it didn’t work. To carry it off, a girl really needs to have dainty bone structure and long hair, which can be pulled back in a sleek ponytail. My face was too full and, unlike Miss Jackson, I couldn’t afford to have it altered to appropriately dainty proportions. Also, my curly hair would never form a sleek ponytail; it preferred to stick out like a giant, shag-carpet-covered lampshade.

But at last, in 2008-09, I have many more hat styles to choose from. Of course, now that opens up a whole new can of haberdashery-related worms. How does a woman of 43 carry off the right hat? I’ve seen plenty of women in their 40s do so effortlessly; I don’t seem to be able to do the same.

First, there was the Purple Cloche Hat Incident. It looked really cute in the store, but later on I realized it made me look like Miss Marple. Then there was the floppy brimmed hat that made me look like “Blossom: The Golden Years.”

It’s a delicate balancing act. If I choose a look that’s too young, I’ll look like Miley Cyrus’ oldest and most deluded fan. If I err on the mature side, I’ll look like I should be sitting on a park bench and feeding pigeons.

So maybe it’s hat’s off for now.

Ear muffs? Here I come.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tammy Swift at tswift@forumcomm.com