Hat party turns into a fun treasure hunt

Dressy hats are no longer found in abundance.
PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. -- Ever try to find a fancy hat in California? It's a tougher proposition than it sounds.
Sure, there are casual hats galore -- baseball caps, beanies, visors and cowboy hats, just to name a few -- but dressy hats are not found in the abundance that they were, say, in the 1950s.
So it was for the women who attended Linda Villemaire's hat party this summer in Pacific Grove. Finding appropriate headwear for the event was something of a treasure hunt.
Luckily, for those who needed them, Villemaire had extras.
Villemaire, an Alabama native transplanted to Monterey County, Calif., admits that she has a serious hat habit. She has at least 20 dress hats of all colors, shapes and sizes, and said that's just a rough guesstimate . . . there are probably more.
Hat parties are common in the South, even if not so on the Left Coast. So it was only natural that when Villemaire was planning her wedding to Greg Sarratt, she also wanted to have a prewedding get-together for her best buddies -- wearing hats.
Main attraction
The hat party attracted chapeaus of all shapes, sizes, materials and colors -- everything from a red bowler with sprouts of black feathers to tiny lids held on by hat pins to pretty summer hats with big brims and silk roses.
"Everyone feels special when they're all dressed up," said Villemaire, attired in a stunning white portrait hat with tulle train, a perfect match for her white-and-pink halter dress and lace parasol.
Even the caterers wore hats at this party, which included croquet, champagne and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
But finding hats was hard. Even Villemaire's bride-to-be hat was imported from Modesto, Calif., thanks to friend Melinda McDonough, who found her own hat there.
Determined raiders
Others at the party raided vintage clothing stores or thrift shops, in addition to more traditional boutiques. Some dug up hats from home that hadn't been worn in years.
"This is only the third hat I've ever owned," said Billie Essenwanger, one of the guests at the party. "I'm dressing around the hat."
Said Rachel Starks, the matron of honor for the wedding, "There's not a lot of selection at local stores." She found her big-brimmed portrait hat -- reminiscent of the one Julia Roberts wore in "Pretty Woman" -- at a shop in Pacific Grove.
"This is the result of power-shopping at Macy's last night," said Carin Cook about her rose-topped white summer hat. "I've never owned a hat before. I had fun looking for it."
Although just about everyone at the party insisted, "I'm not really a hat person," there they were with hats, following the instructions listed on the invitation to this soiree.
Villemaire's future mother-in-law and sister-in-law, Mary and Laura Sarratt, borrowed hats from Villemaire's considerable collection. So did several friends, including one who insisted she'd arrived in a fishing hat but decided to switch at the party.
"I'm constantly on the lookout for new hats. I'll buy whatever hits my fancy," said Villemaire, who works as a critical care nurse. She displayed some of her hats on a rack at the party.
Warm and fuzzy
One of the most unique hats, a warm fuzzy "bucket" with pink stripes, belonged to Erin Bean of Prunedale, Calif.
"I've had it for a while. It's nice in the fog," said Bean, who wore pink high-heeled sandals to match.
The hat theme was carried on by the choice of party favors -- bracelets with hat charms -- and partygoers also got to play party games and vote for their favorite outfit. The prize went to Starks.
"This is so much fun that I may have to do it once a month," said Villemaire.

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