The hat has had many roles throughout history: Head Protector. Ceremonial or Religious Garb. Indicator of Social Status or Military Rank. Fashion Accessory. Wearable Sculptural. Art. A Substitute For Dieting.

If someone walks by you with a ship sailing on her head, or a plate of sushi perched provocatively over one eye or even wearing a purple fur hat, she is making a statement. I used to pass judgment on people like that. “Who does she think she is?” What I really meant was, “Why does she have the guts to wear something fun, that looks good, while I look like a schlump?”

My mother did not have a photographer at her wedding because of a hat. She had been to the nuptials of a friend the week before her own. Her friend’s photographer had on a hat with a long, bouncy plume. My mom swore that no one looked at the bride because all eyes were on the photographer! This may not seem like a big deal but thanks to that photographer, I never saw a wedding picture of my parents until recently.

I figure that regular people have six different events in life when they can comfortably wear a hat. The first is when they are freezing their butts off in the dead of winter and the second is when they are boiling hot in the middle of the summer. They’ll wear a hat while playing ball. They’ll wear one for a “hat” event or for a Halloween costume, In the case of women, they’ll wear a hat at their wedding, if you want to consider a veil a hat.

Most women enjoy looking at hats when there is a royal wedding, Kentucky Derby, or watching someone like Lady Gaga. Except when using a hat for protection, most people don’t wear them because they don’t feel comfortable drawing attention to themselves. I was recently shopping in at The Hat Shop in Manhattan with a friend who bought her first hat, a cute little top hat number with feathers. She wore it out that night but thought everyone was staring at her. It wasn’t until she forgot that she was wearing it that she relaxed. From what I could see, the only looks she got were admiring ones!

While I was in art school, I took a couple of hat classes with Eia Radosavljevic, a very talented milliner and professor, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. When she was in the Millinery program at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, she had to set a price on her hats before she wore them out. She inevitably sold them right off her head! Hat making appealed to me because all of my work is sculptural in nature. It was the most challenging class I took in art school. I texted Eia one evening, “I’ve put thirty hours into this hat and I’m not finished.” Her response, “OK, what’s the problem?” Hat Making is an artistic discipline that allows you to use any material in a hat’s creation. If you can affix it to the head you’ve got a hat.

If you’d like to check out some cool, sculptural hats, in addition to Eia’s look at another Chicago Milliner, Raymond Hudd’s work. Also check out London-based, Phillip Treacy and Stephen Jones, both who have wonderful, gravity-defying creations.

Call me crazy when I say this, but wearing a hat can change your life! If you’ve got to go to a party where you don’t know anyone, wear a cool hat and it becomes your icebreaker. I went to a function with a pillbox “bed hat,” complete with pillows, bedspread and slippers and had a great time. For a while, my hat wearing got me off of yo-yo dieting. My philosophy was that if my hat could keep people’s eye up, no one would look anywhere but at my head and face thus negating the need for weight loss.

A hat can make your outfit as I discovered while attending the Diner en Blanc in Chicago last fall. All attendees are required to wear white, bring their own food, along with white tables, chairs and flowers. I needed something to jazz up my ensemble. I ended up with a feathery fascinator (a large hair decorator). This confection made my outfit. The “white dinner” is a really fun event, held at a mystery location in the city. With all of the thousands of attendees required to wear white, from head to toe, it’s hard to stand out. I was feeling a little bland and the fascinator fixed the problem. You’ll discover that once you start wearing hats, you’ll feel underdressed without one. It’s like leaving home without shoes!

Why all this talk of hats? Because I’ve been asked to run the community art tent during the Riverside Arts Weekend and guess what we’ll be making? You got it, hats!

Please come to the Community Art Tent and join the RAC for Hats as Wearable Sculpture, a hat-making extravaganza. We will be creating fun and whacky hats out of paper! The sky is the limit with these sculptural chapeaus! Children and families are welcome to this free event. Wear your creation around town and to Flicker, RAW’s unique fashion show. We will also be inviting some lucky hat makers to display their work during the Flicker Fashion Show on Sunday, May 18th!

Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer and board member of the RAC. She lives with her husband, kids and doodle dogs. You can experience more about her at

Kathleen Thometz

I am an artist, writer, and art instructor with four children, one husband, and two doodle-dogs. I have contributed articles to the and Chicago Parent Magazine and wrote the Artist's Eye column...