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Hated Winter: From Snow to Rainforest

I grew up in Calgary, where winters were defined by snow and snowsuits, giant mitts and yes, that Canadian thing, tuques. As kids our tuques (toooq) were balaclavas. They had an inner piece that could be pulled down over the face. Today they’re called ski masks and have a big opening around the eyes. Ours had two eye holes and maybe a mouth hole. Pretty much  only burglars wear them now. It was nearly worth the risk of frostbite not to wear these horribly uncool and unfashionable items, even at the age of seven, even before seven-year-olds were that fashion-conscious.

There was just no way anyone wanted to wear these things. When nostrils started freezing shut and the air cut as we inhaled, and eyelashes froze our eyes shut, then we would reluctantly pull these things over our faces, dealing with the ice encrusting around the mouth hole every time we exhaled.

I didn’t have a snowsuit but I think there were thick pants over tights and two pairs of socks. Imagine being a kid of six, not particularly tall, struggling through a foot of snow and looking like the Michelin tire man. In my first grade I was late every day for a week because I just could walk any faster through all the snow. That was back when children were allowed to walk to school from grade 1 through 12 and the only ones that were driven were the teenagers who drove themselves.

Winter. How I hated it. My sister and I shared a bedroom in a split-level house, which mean all but three feet of our room was below ground. And the air vent didn’t really work. And the floors were cold linoleum on concrete. Cold. Icy icy cold. My sister and I both hate cold to this day. She has other reasons as she has arthritis as well.

In Calgary we would listen to the radio every morning in winter to find out the temperature and whether the schools were closed. They usually only closed them when the temperature, combined with the wind chill factor, got below -30.  Yeah, we were hardy little buggers. Walk or freeze. My mother would load our little metal lunch boxes with a thermos of hot chocolate and some sort of sandwich wrapped in wax paper, and a fruit or a cookie and off we would go.

I somehow don’t remember winter that well in my teenage years. By then I completely refused to wear those horrid balaclavas. Losing my nose was a risk I was going to take. I had a big puffy downfilled coat and some sort of hat or tuque but without the face part.

In art college I remember the tops of my ears being frostbitten one day because I walked from the college across a very major street to the shopping mall where I worked. I had my hair braided back and it was probably spring. That exposure was enough to do the ears in. My toes were also frostbitten when I got a ride by the Calgary hot air balloon club, in exchange for pictures. Again it was spring and the snow had disappeared from most of the sidewalks. In my runners I rode the balloon and everything was fine…until we landed in a farmer’s field still covered in snow.

The cold I hated the most was the one that seemed to freeze the marrow. Doing photography I would go out and shoot until my camera froze up. There are oils that are in the body for the gears and the lenses so that the focusing ring can be turned easily. When I could no longer easily focus I would go in. On days like that there was a cold beyond shivering that really felt like it was in my bones. It was a terrible deep ache that I could only alleviated by immersing myself in a very hot bath.

It was enough to get me to move to Vancouver, land of green grass and ivy in winter. But Vancouver was a different climate from Calgary. Calgary was dry. Vancouver was humid. I moved here and found mold growing in my shoes at first. Every time I crawled into bed it felt like I was in wet sheets. My face broke out in all these little bumps. After seeing a dermatologist, it was determined that I was using too much lotion, having come from a drier climate.

But Vancouver was warm, and sure it rained like it was time to build an ark, but it was nice. Yes, nice. I’ll take a two-week long deluge anytime. So when it snows here I whine. I whine a lot. Snow is for the mountains, not the city. If our temperature drops below 0, I whine. We’re not supposed to get temperatures that cold and believe me, our pipes are not that deep underground. Last year’s hideous, snowy winter caused my kitchen pipes to freeze. Luckily they’re plastic and we could thaw them with a space heater.

I was born in the clime of true winter but I never took to it. Perhaps my ancestors’ genes had some influence. But one half was Danish and the other Italian. It seems my sister and I take after the Italian side, while my older brother and my mother (born of Italian parents) would prefer to be of the Danish side when it comes to climate.

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When Were Women’s Hats in Fashion?

I’ve been asked this question and let’s say women’s hats have been in fashion for centuries. If I limit this to Europe (because various regions developed headdresses as different times) then we can look at it a bit more specifically. Headdresses might be a better word than hat since what we see in modern terms as a hat is not the same as a head covering. This could cover everything from a kerchief to feather and bone to felt and straw.

If we look at earlier civilizations, head ornamentation covered metal crowns,  coronets and helmets for war. These can be seen in Egyptian, Babylonian, Sumerian etc. eras. Metal working was endurable and saved the head from a Bronze Age sword. But it wasn’t really used in making hats or head coverings so much as showing social class and standing.

The first hats were most likely squares of fabric, just as the first types of clothing (after fur and wool) were squares of woven fabric stitched together. As civilizations evolved into aggregate societies, becoming more sedentary and developing cultures, they also learned to weave, sew and shape cloth. The making of any fabric was time-consuming and no piece was wasted. People either made their own cloth or had to trade with merchants and then sew their own garments. Rectangular construction used every piece even if it was cut first into various rectangular, square or triangular shapes.

The same knowledge and skills for clothing would have been the basis for hats. It is known that Norse women wore rectangles of fabric upon their heads, sewn into a peak or rounded, essentially forming a cap. (many early medieval caps and coifs were worn by both sexes) The veil or fabric (from wool, linen or cotton depending on the area) rectangular headdress was common in European countries, protecting the head from sun, and in some areas as a form of tradition or religious custom. Styles may have been influenced back and forth between the religious customs and the nonreligious. In some cases married women were required to cover their heads and this seems to be more a Christian tradition than cultural.

Fabric became more elaborate and was used in turban like wraps and caps. It’s hard to peg the first true hat but the Phrygian cap (a soft red knitted hat, like the Smurfs wear) was being worn in Phrygia (of course) as well as Greece and Rome as early as the 4th century BCE. The Catholic mitre was being worn by about the 11th century, and was probably an adaptation of the Phrygian cap. But these are men’s hats.

hoodEarly outerwear involved rectangular mantles (the precursor to the cloak) and eventually hoods. These garments were worn by men and women alike. Women’s hats began as elaborately configured and starched veils or fabric. Some were pinnheaddressed into interesting shapes while others were stitched.  There would have been a utilitarian aspect, keeping the hair away from food and fires. As textile weaves became more intricate, so did the headdresses, involving wire, mesh, brocade, velvet, fur, linen, silk, wool, etc.

As the Catholic church’s influence grew, various laws came into effect. Some were sumptuary laws indicating that only a person of a certain station (or nobility) could wear certain colors, fabrics or styles. Others were edicts of the church, that women must cover their hair, or even their ears because Mary had conceived the word of God and the ear must be covered. This brought out more ingenious headdress, often flaunting the church doctrines. Veils so thin they were nearly nonexistent are indicated in some paints, and really don’t hide hair nor ears. Hats and headdress became greater symbols of status, social rank, wealth and fashion.

barbetteAround the 13th century the transition began from coif, cap and headdress to hat. The barbette or porkpie hat was a stiff band of several inches depth that went around the head with a piece of fabric wrapping  under the chin to hold it on. It was hollow on the crown but some began to be filled in with fabric.

The hennin is the big conehead style everyone imagines when thinking of
hat

A form of hennin.

fairytale princesses but had a relatively short life and also had many variations. These began in the 14th century and involved veils as well as hat forms mixed together. Jewels and pearls adorned headdresses by the 1400s and the Tudor headdresses took on a new form, which was not utilitarian at all. The Renaissance and Tudor eras of the 15th century really began the roller coaster of fashion in all senses. Clothing patterns became very elaborate as did hats and by the Baroque and Rococo eras hats and hairpieces were monumental in stature and elaborateness.The ornamentation of the Tudors was just the beginning of hats.

anne of cleves

The elaborate Tudor headdresses were just another step.

So when were women’s hats in fashion? You could say from about 1300 till about 1960. Hats are still worn but not as often. The full evolution would take a lot longer to research and write. As well, narrowing hats by country or era can give more focus. This is a very surface brush with hats and I have not consulted one of my 40+ books on clothing/costume history at home.

But hats have often been worn for fashion and fun, to flaunt status and sometimes for piety. They will always be worn as protection from the elements, whether sun, rain, cold or wind. They reflect the flavors of an era as well as what fabric or trim was newly discovered or cherished. They also indicate the growing sophistication of the human hand and the creative mind. Hats will never quite die out for all of these reasons.

If you would like to more know about a specific era, country or style, then let me know and I’ll see what I can dredge up.

http://m-silkwork.blogspot.com/2008/11/womens-caps.html

http://www.vintagefashionguild.org/content/view/604/75/

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Freakin’ Winter Wonderland Update

On Friday night I decided to completely close my bedroom window. It tends to be the warmest room in the house and although I like my climes warm I like to sleep slightly cool. So I usually have my window open a crack throughout the year. It got frikkin freezing enough on Friday that I closed it.

Or tried to. But the wood is warped with the cold. All that west coast moisture that seeps into everything has now expanded as it turned to ice and I could only, mostly, close the window. Likewise, I could only partly open the door under our front stairs where the garbage is stored. Luckily it was enough to get my head and arm in to toss the offending scraps.

This morning (Saturday though technically it’s 12:10 am) I washed my face and put clothes in the washer. All good, but when I went to rinse dishes in the kitchen there was no hot water. Not just water that’s gone cold but no water period, though I had the cold water well enough. My earlier fear of pipes freezing had come true.

My landlord and I put a heater in the cupboard and I walked up to the drive to meet a client and do some shopping. I now have a new appreciation for what it was like living on the farm in the 1900s and having to pile wood on the stove. You’d wear tights and socks and shirts and sweaters, and shawls, piling layer on layer to just keep warm. No care to how weirdly street person like you look.

If I’d been a guy, by the end of my walk today I would have been a woman because the proverbial brass balls had fallen off the monkey. I walked so quickly (uphill) to the Drive that I sweated and pulled off my cat paw mitts, unbuttoned the top button of my melton wool coat and loosened my woven silk scarf. I kept my hat on my head but when I met my client I took off my coat, unbuttoned the sweater and took off the hat.

By the end of the meeting, before we had even left I was putting on my hat, then buttoning my sweater, then putting on my coat. The sweat had cooled on my body by the time I walked to the bank, then to the post office. Not too bad…bearable if not freezing. But then I walked down to the market, carrying the parcel and the two bottles of wine from the liquor store (it may be an economic downturn but you can’t tell from the empty shelves in the store…or maybe you can). I bought veggies and began the trek home. Two blocks and my right foot was completely numb with cold.

Not to mention I’d been cold in the liquour store and never warmed up. I stopped in the chocolate store, partially to thaw. My foot was hurting by then. But I didn’t mind the wait in the store. I depopsiclized. I got home and it was positively balmy in comparison. And hooray, the water was working again.

Tonight I drove to a friend’s yule party in New West. Fine weather but freakin’ freezing. I left at 8:30 to go to a party in Kits and it had warmed up enought to not need mitts in the car. I picked up my friends along the way and we were there by about 9:15. Just as it began to snow. That’s snow on top of snow and ice, with below freezing temperatures, that we’ve had for a week, in Vancouver. Where it never or just barely every snows!

Guess what? Coldest day ever! in one hundred years! That means since they start recording temperatures and I guess hell has frozen over because this sure feels like hell. So now it’s 12:20. I made reasonably good time though all, and I mean ALL the roads are coated with snow. Anyone driving had windows covered with snow because it was falling faster than a heater could melt it. But I made it without incident.

Hunkered down. Grinchly grumpy about the stuff I moved away from Alberta to avoid. Sad that I won’t be making it to my friend’s memorial tomorrow because I won’t be able to get through the snow. But grateful we’re whole and we all made it in one piece and that everyone was driving sanely.

Addendum: It’s Sunday noon, and it’s still snowing! There must be a foot by now and no end in site. I didn’t order this. Waaaaaah!

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