Gail Bauhs faced an enviable dilemma leading up to Easter: Which of her dozens of elaborate, festive hats would she wear to worship service this year at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Vancouver?
As of a couple weeks before the holiday, Bauhs, a 56-year-old TriMet transportation brokerage manager, had narrowed the choice to two wide-brimmed hats she rarely dons. One was a bright yellow straw hat for which she recently found the perfect scarf to match.
“It’s not an easy color to find things to go with,” Bauhs said.
The second choice was a black hat with cream flower and green vine adornments to pair with an antique black silk and velvet scarf.
Or she could go a different route altogether and choose any one of the 30 to 35 hats that fill the closets and floor-to-ceiling cabinets in her home in Vancouver’s Northwest neighborhood. Each hat has its own round box to protect the shape and finish of the treasure hidden inside.
“They all have a particular story,” she said.
While church dress has become increasingly informal, Bauhs continues to dress up for worship service.
“I like to dress, and I think that hats are something that make a church event a little more special,” she said. “Our society has gotten quite casual over the years, and that’s a lovely thing in many ways. Because it’s so casual, it makes the act of dressing up and wearing a hat more special.”
A nod to church attire of days past
The Rev. Ed Lovelady, interim rector at St. Luke’s, has seen the evolution in church dress over time. He said he remembers in the 1950s and ’60s, men would wear suits to church, and women wore dresses and covered their heads with hats or scarves.
“The newer generations are less formal in what they wear to work, what they wear going out, and that’s reflected in what they wear to church,” he said. “I’ve seen everything from swimsuits to three-piece suits.”
The looser dress code might be due in part to the church’s more come-as-you-are approach, Lovelady said.
Still, Easter and Christmas are the two times a year when many people seem to put a little more effort into what they and their families wear to church, he said.
Bauhs always wears a hat to church, but she seeks especially ornate and joyful chapeaux for Easter.
Busy season for milliners
She’s not alone among hat aficionados in stepping things up this time of year. This is the busy season for milliners, said Dayna Pinkham, owner of Pinkham Millinery in Portland, where Bauhs has had hats made.
People are wanting decorative-yet-wearable hats not just for Easter but for Kentucky Derby parties, and upcoming spring and summer weddings, Pinkham said.
“People tend to get more formal hats this time of year,” she said, adding that flower and feather adornments are especially popular right now.
Easter hats that Bauhs has worn have run from a pink creation with a veil and a ribbon that she paired with a linen dress, to a blue-and-white feathered hat she wore with a blue silk dress.
“I love the color,” she said of the cobalt blue hat. “And I like it because it’s very playful.”
Setting the mood
Bauhs said she uses hats to create a mood or atmosphere. Sometimes she starts with an outfit and finds a hat to match, and sometimes vice versa.
She’s collected hats while traveling on business and visiting relatives. She said she’s found that places such as Louisiana and Arizona tend to have a good selection of the styles she likes.
“What you’ll find is in places that have a lot of sun, you tend to find more hats and more larger-brimmed hats,” she said.
Bauhs has hats from department stores such as Nordstrom, as well as from tea shops and millineries. Some are custom-made, and others prêt-à-porter. They range in price from $25 to $400 and offer Bauhs as many color choices as a big box of Crayola crayons.
Bauhs said she has been feeding her passion for hats and her collection for years. She got her start at 14 while designing and making clothes in 4-H. Bauhs said she wanted hats to complete the looks and turn garments into outfits. Some of her earliest acquisitions are two riding hats in black and brown, which she still has. Bauhs also has a fedora with a lucky penny in the band that she wore dancing in the ’70s.
One that a friend covets is a red wool hat with silk ribbon and flower adornments. It has a black veil that can be worn over the face or raised.
“It’s quite the Mata Hari look. It’s a drama queen hat, but I love it. Hats are so fun. A lot of people say they don’t look good in hats, but really it’s just they haven’t found the style that suits them.”