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Monday, January 26, 2009

Local Hatter Left Pondering Why Dianne Feinstein Didn't Wear the Handmade Chapeaux Commissioned for Inauguration

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 6:30 AM


Incidentally, cap insiders describe this creation as "a turban-style hat with a self-contained bow."

Barack Obama campaigned -- and won -- largely on a message of hope. And, surveying the masses present for his inauguration last week, one group of Americans has every right to feel hopeful -- hatters.

Whether it was Georgia Congressman Sanford Bishop's "Watch me shake everyone's hand on TV!" blood-red fedora or Aretha Franklin's jaw-dropping chapeau (which bore an uncanny resemblance to the mothership in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) -- it's hard to argue that hats, like transparent government and articulate presidents, aren't poised to make a comeback.

"I've had women coming in here saying 'I want the Aretha.' And I've got it in my front window," gushed Ruth Dewson, the eponymous owner of  "Mrs. Dewson's Hats" on Fillmore. She was just one of several San Francisco hatters who told SF Weekly that the Sunday-at-church-like display during the inauguration has resulted in more folks coming into her store (and gobbling up massive bow hats).

Peg Purcell of Hats on Post is anticipating a boost, too -- but she can't help thinking about how many cap-obsessed women would be beating their way to her door if things had gone the way she thought they would. Purcell, you see, had been commissioned by Sen. Dianne Feinstein to craft a pair of handmade hats for the inauguration -- meaning billions of sets of eyes should have been on Purcell's handiwork as Feinstein hosted the Super Bowl of inaugurations.

And yet, for reasons still unknown, Feinstein decided the hats, like Leon Panetta, were something she could do without.

Purcell hasn't yet heard from Feinstein or her daughter, Katherine Feinstein Mariano, whom she actually dealt with face to face, as to why the senator didn't wear either of the handmade hats (our calls to Feinstein's office were answered by an intern as shocked to be answering questions about hats as we were to be asking them). But Purcell does have a number of working theories:

  • Feinstein changed her outfit at the last minute and the hats did not match;

  • Feinstein never personally came into the shop to try on the hats, so they may not have fit properly;

  • Michelle Obama went hatless, and that may have set the tone, so to speak;

  • Aretha's hat might have been so much hat that no other women on the podium felt up to wearing one.
"You cannot imagine how much work went into matching that hat to Dianne's outfit," said Purcell with a chuckle. "I found out what she was wearing, I went out with her personal shopper and picked out the right reds -- she was initially going to be in her red St. John suit. But I also made her a black cloche [like] what Angelina Jolie wore in The Changeling." (Unfortunately, Purcell gave both hats to Feinstein's daughter before photographing them.)

Purcell wouldn't divulge how much Feinstein paid to commission a pair of hats, but did ballpark it at "in the three digits per cap." She sighed and laughed again. "Literally, this would have been a feather in my cap."

Dewson, meanwhile, has her sights set on a bigger hat-wearing target than a mere senator. She was an early and emphatic Obama supporter who last year placed a poster of the candidate in her front window proclaiming "He's Black Enough for Me!" (You may recall that this was an actual mini-controversy, as ridiculous as it seems in hindsight.) The hatter -- who designed and patented a fedora for Willie Brown -- has discussed with Obama what manner of hat would suit him.

"I know, eventually, he's going to let me get him to wear a hat," Dewson says. "He was concerned about his big ears and asked what kind of hat he would look good in. I said, 'It won't take much to make you look good.'"

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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