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Hats Are the Crowning Touch to ‘80s Chic

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Imagine Hedda Hopper hatless. Impossible. Hers was a time when a woman would sooner leave home without her blouse than without her hat. For die-hard hat lovers, those days never ended. But for most women, hats were a thing of the past until recently, when winds of whimsy blew through the fashion world stirring up perfect hat weather.

In Europe and the United States, spring collections brimmed with flowers, gloves and frivolous hats.

Christian Lacroix, the so-called “mad hatter of Paris,” helped to inspire the trend. But with or without him, the impulse toward hats is getting stronger.

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In Los Angeles, hat lovers say that what is chic is also practical. Hats can camouflage hair that’s not quite “done,” can protect the face from ultraviolet rays and can revive an old, familiar outfit. Whatever the reason, more than 50% of the clothing stores on Melrose Avenue between La Brea Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard now have hats in their windows. And what’s more, sales personnel say people are buying them.

Actress and hat lover Rosanna Arquette is not exactly thrilled about the current hat craze. “Lots of people are wearing them and it bums me out, because I like to be different. And now I look like everyone else.”

She needn’t worry. Dressed in lime-green fishnets, matching color top, flowered miniskirt and black leather jacket, Arquette modeled six of her favorite hats for The Times, while explaining how she feeds her passion.

“I used to get great hats at secondhand stores, but now I have them made, because I have my own ideas.” She recently asked Los Angeles’ Lori Henle, who designs under the Il Tetto label, for a light pink leather pilot cap.

Henle sent just the thing, with flowered lining. A version of the hat, with plaid lining, will be part of Il Tetto’s fall line. Henle even named a front-flip straw raffia design, the “Rosanna hat.”

Another Arquette favorite is milliner Rosemary Warren. “She’s one of the first who started that antique look,” the actress says. Warren’s custom-made hats are one-of-a-kind assemblages, made in and sold from her Los Angeles studio, Rabbitworks Flora.

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This week Warren met Arquette in France to give her a special hat for the Cannes Film Festival, which opened Wednesday with Arquette’s new film “The Big Blue.” Is there any place Arquette would not wear a hat? “In bed,” she says with a shrug.

Actress Sally Kellerman calls hat hunting, “one of my major crusades.” Kellerman’s not one to fear what hats will do to her hair style. In fact, she says, “I have very fine hair, so hats are the answer. I also don’t like to get in the sun,” she adds.

This summer’s favorite hat, Kellerman said, is “a mangled straw that I found on the floor of my daughter’s closet.” It’s trimmed with a red-and-white checked ribbon.

Occasionally, Kellerman’s hats become part of a character’s wardrobe. “Mangled straw” will appear in an upcoming pilot with Kellerman and Frank Langella, while another hat, with “Australia” emblazoned across the front, is featured in “All’s Fair,” due out in August with Kellerman and George Segal.

“I found it in Australia for about two bucks,” the actress says, “and it was perfect for the character.”

Actresses seem particularly prone to hats. Self-described “acting milliner” Mary-Rea McDonald has thoughts on why. “People who wear hats like being looked at,” says the 23-year-old who, when she’s not auditioning, reshapes and trims new hats with combinations of flowers, birds and silk bows, some of them antique.

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Her first collection is selling well at Madeleine Gallay on Sunset Boulevard, and for that, McDonald thanks the “mad-hatter” himself. “Lacroix was a real turnaround,” McDonald says. “He gave people license to wear hats and like it.”

As hats become more popular, McDonald hopes the more timid dressers will start wearing them. “People have hat phobias. They feel like, when they’re wearing them, they have another nose on. People have to trust their instincts a little more. There must be hats in heaven for every person.”

For those who don’t want to wait for that great hat shop in the sky, there are other local options. Elizabeth Marcel blocks, trims and dyes most of her straws and felts in the back of her Hat Gallery on Melrose Avenue.

Most of Marcel’s hats are understated, with deep crowns and crinkled brims that give even the smallest cloche a windblown feel. Since she opened the store in January, her hats have been chosen for three films, all yet to be released. She is also doing summer and fall lines for Modasport.

Marcel’s customers vary in age and life style. “Women seem to see hats as a special treat, like lingerie,” Marcel says.

Jennifer Mathews, 16, sometimes wears her Marcel hat in class, until her teacher at Hollywood Academy tells her to take it off. Interior designer Laura Kaas, 29, says her hat “cheers me up like a good friend. Hats add a little mischief to everything.”

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J. P. Powers, lead singer for a band called Divine Rite, commissioned a hat from Marcel for his girlfriend, Lynn. “It had a swirl effect,” he said, and was trimmed with a shimmering ribbon in her favorite color, purple.

“She likes hats and I like seeing her in them. It brings out her personality.” Has he noticed more people wearing hats? “I don’t notice anyone else when I’m with her.”

Yes, romance is an essential element of the hat mystique, Oakland-based hatmaker Laurel Fenenga says.

“It’s a way to flirt without being vulgar,” she explains. “Men like women in hats. It means the women have put an extra effort into getting dressed. It’s kind of a compliment.”

Anyone who buys a hat from her Oakland retail store, the Milliner, is guaranteed a flattering comment, or “they can come back and exchange it.”

The majority of Fenenga’s hats are collapsible, in an attempt to solve the “what-do-I-do-with-it-when-I-travel” problem.

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Fenenga’s spring line of pastel straws is packaged in what looks like a white record jacket. For fall, she works her accordion-pleat effects in suede and rainproof fabrics.

Hats from these designers are not cheap. Their handcrafted styles start at about $95 and escalate to several hundred dollars.

Marjorie Dean, owner and publisher of the Tobe Report, a weekly fashion-industry newsletter, is “surprised at how much people will spend on hats.”

“Hat sales have been up and will continue to rise,” she says. “It’s part of dressing up--you finish it off, top it. Today you can’t walk out of the house without thinking about your head. It is a ‘now’ fashion to wear a hat.” If not a hat, then a bow or a special hairdo.

Dean remembers “when hats died a lingering death on the heads of ladies with blue hair.” While the days are not back where every major department store has a hat deparment (Bullock’s, for example, does not), “you can say that most people now have at least one hat in their wardrobe. People want fun fashion,” Dean says.

But hats are not simply decorative. Milliner Katha Casey, who reworks antique hats and sells them at Weathervane Two in Santa Monica, says: “People are taking the sun more seriously” and are wearing hats for protection.

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New York designer Kitty Wise agrees. While shopping for a wide-brimmed hat during a recent L.A. visit, she said: “People nowadays are more aware of the ozone.”

Sun-soaked Angelenos may be more concerned than others, said Elly Sidel, a Warner Bros. vice president, who keeps her trusty straw hat in the front seat of her Mercedes for those open-sunroof days.

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