Back in the '70's, we were still trying to set ourselves free of old roles.I was 30 in 1973, and most of my friends were in their 30's too. In those days, 20-year-olds thought 30-somethings were old, and we 30-somethings were afraid they were right. We had been children of the 50's, and so we wanted to discover ourselves while there was still time to be whatever we discovered.
I was a young photographer, discovering the power of the image. I went to a tea given by a woman who owned a collection of a couple of hundred vintage hats. We all tried them on while eating plenty of strawberries and sweets. I didn't know most of the women, but I could observe some magic going on. When a woman tried on a hat, her energy changed. She felt permission to be whatever the hat suggested to her. I was excited by this, and wanted to explore it photographically. The hostess and I planned a second tea where she would invite women who agreed to be photographed trying on hats.
The woman in the photograph above had been a stranger to me, but her friends gasped when they saw her in this pose. They had never seen her so open, so innocent, and so sensual. I saw the difference at the end of the party when she changed back into her jeans and sweater. The magic was gone. Like Cinderella, her coach had turned back into a pumpkin. That vehicle - that permission - had been the hat.
I created a series of photographs from this event and had a show at a local gallery; Women in Hats. The women in the photographs had a pre-party, where they dressed in vintage clothes, drank sherry, and prepared for the opening of the show. All those invited to the opening were encouraged to wear a hat or try one on. I hung mirrors with the photos. I hired my daughters to take photos of women with hats on looking at photos of women in hats. Layers of reflection. And yes, the guests felt permission to play, to be someone outside their usual roles.
So, if you could wear any kind of hat, what style would you pick for this period of your life? Jaunty? Elegant? Sporty? Picture it with that inner eye, that indestructible camera that never runs out of film or card space.
And if that hat were magical, what would it allow you to be, do or feel?
I think I'd pick the broad brimmed black hat I wore for my 70th birthday party. It feels fun and elegant. It would give me permission to dress up for no reason at all. Maybe I'd wear it just to walk in the desert or go to the grocery store. Just because I wanted to feel like sweeping into a room. Not for the attention. Not any more. Just for the feeling.
Finally, what does this hat idea suggest or reveal to you about yourself and your desires for this period of your life? My hat experience tells me I want to set my essence free, to let her play, to allow her to go to the dance, to sweep into the room. Even if she's the only one in it, to twirl around is more magical than ever at 70.