The point of hats

The Big T's great grandmother, Veronika Klukofsly. Photo undated. From Dove family archive.

The Big T’s great grandmother, Veronika Klukofsky. Photo undated. From Dove family archive.

Hats make people feel good. That’s the point of them.

Philip Treacy, hat designer

I love hats; cloches, fedoras, boaters — the bigger and more extravagant the better. But beyond shoving on a fairly battered straw number while I’m gardening, or donning a oversized fluffy beret at early morning soccer games, my lifestyle isn’t what you might call hat-friendly.

I suspect I was born out of my time; too late to be part of a culture that embraced millinery as a day-to-day necessity.  Even in my mother’s generation, it was at least considered normal to wear hats to weddings. Here in New Zealand — a country famous for it’s informality — current wedding attire is more likely to include a baseball cap or beanie than any of the elaborate confections favoured by earlier generations.

Celebrations of marriage (weddings and anniversaries) seem to have brought the millinery out of the closet in our family. My great grandmother donned this rather frilly, and very “sixties” hat for the party to celebrate her sixty years of marriage to my great grandfather.

Sixtieth wedding anniversary: Alexander Cruden and Catherine Black, 1968. Photo: Ramsay family archive.

Sixtieth wedding anniversary: Alexander Cruden and Catherine Black, 1968. Photo: Ramsay family archive.

For my mother, her hat-wearing heyday seems to have been the late 1950s. I guess this is probably a function of her age and life stage; she could afford to dress well (married, no kids) and was probably going to lots of her friends’ weddings.

Elizabeth Ramsay, 1956.

Elizabeth Ramsay, 1956. Unknown wedding. Photo: Leslie Ramsay family archive.

Elizabeth Ramsay, 1958. Unknown wedding. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

Elizabeth Ramsay, 1958. Unknown wedding. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

I love the photo below of my mother and aunt. I don’t know where they were going, but they look happy — and very glamourous.

My aunt Cathie, cousin Rob and my mum, Kirkcaldy, 1958.

Catherine Ramsay, her son Robert Guthrie, and his aunt Elizabeth Ramsay. Kirkcaldy, c. 1957-58.

A street photographer captured this shot of the Big T’s aunt Hazel and a friend. They look as though they are out for a day’s shopping, or off to see a movie — but both made hats a part of their outfit.


Hazel Dove and friend Doreen Kier, c. 1940. Photo: Dove Gray family archive.

Perhaps a favourite hat for my mum. She’s wearing it in the shot with her sister, and its very similar in style to another shown above.

Elizabeth Ramsay, Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy, Scotland. c. 1959. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

Elizabeth Ramsay, Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy, Scotland. c. 1959. Photo: Ramsay Leslie family archive.

This image of my mother reminds me of one I found of the Big T’s great aunt Alice. The shots are separated by about 30 years, but the look is the same; a young woman,  posed for the camera in special clothes.

photo 333

Alice Lietze. Date unknown, but probably late 1920s. Photo: Dove Gray family archive.

The Big T’s grandmother, Isabella Lietze, also seems to have been a hat wearer. I love her wedding photo; Isabella and her new husband Arthur Dove, surrounded by family, including sister Alice shown above.

iad03b 20's

Marriage of Arthur Dove to Isabella Lietze. Back row (l-f): William Lietze, Arthur Dove, August Lietze, John Lietze. Front row: Mabel Dove, Mary Maria Dove (nee Simons), Isabella Lietze, Alice Lietze. c. 1920, Southland NZ. Photo: Dove Gray family archive.

One of the things I admire about Isabella’s hat-wearing is how she experimented with different styles. I’d love to know what colours they were, but most of our photos are in black & white.

photo 222

Isabella Lietze, with daughter Mary Dove and Mary’s daughter Kathleen Lynch. c. 1947. Photo: Dove Gray family archive.


Isabella Lietze. Studio portrait c. 1950s. Photo: Dove Gray family archive.


Isabella Lietze (right) with unknown companion. c. 1950s. Photo: Dove Gray family archive.


Alice and Isabella Lietze. Date and place unknown. Photo: Dove Gray family archive.

The Big T’s great aunt Alice was by all accounts an amazing woman who lived life to the full (and well into her 90s). She certainly wasn’t afraid to wear a bold hat!


Wedding of Isabella Lietze’s grandson Max Dove, to Marion (surname unknown). Pictured, Marion’s grandmother, Marion and Isabella. Bold hat honours to Marion’s grandma. Photo: Dove Gray family archive.


Isabella Lietze, at the wedding of John Duncan (nephew), 26 July 1973. Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Dove Gray family archive.

And the last time I wore a hat just to feel good …. our friends Chris and Nolene’s wedding in 1989. Can’t believe how much younger than me the Big T looked!

small tony gray su leslie 1989 chris mcmaster wedding auckland

The Big T and I; Chris and Nole’s wedding, Auckland, NZ. 1989. Photo: Gray Leslie family archive.

This post was written for the “Hats” photo challenge at Where’s my Backpack. You can see Ailsa’s photos, and find out more here.

19 thoughts on “The point of hats

  1. That was a sweet walk down memory lane. Gorgeous hats. I have always liked the idea of hats and the look of hats, but have never found a way to wear them comfortably.

  2. Lovely post Su, really wonderful archives you have. I wear hats as working outside its great protection and I feel properly dressed with a hat on my head, more folk should do it!

    • Thank you; I actually didn’t find many shots with fascinations, but would have censored them anyway as I think they are are a very poor excuse for a hat! Hehe.

  3. Wonderful photos—I can’t believe all those hats! I don’t think I have EVER seen a photo of my mother in a hat. And I think the only hats I have ever worn are those to keep me warm in the winter—ski hats, hats with ear flaps, etc.—and cool in the sun—baseball hats, mostly. Those women had style! (Something that no one has ever accused me of having…)

    • Aren’t they fabulous; so make me wish I’d been born 50 years earlier! It was really interesting looking through all the photos — I didn’t find any of my grandmother wearing a hat, except studio shots of her as a child. I wonder if she decided as an adult she just wasn’t “a hat person.”

  4. You have some very cool hats. Actually my mother was a stickler for hats in the 60’s, to the point of making her own. I have a couple of hats for Art Deco. That gives us all a good excuse for wearing hats.

  5. I’ve toyed a few times with the idea of trying to make hats (beyond knitting beanies, which I do), but then I remind myself that … erm … I never actually wear them. I loved your deco hat, so maybe I need to make the pilgrimage to the deco weekend sometime so that I can indulge my millinery fantasies. 🙂

  6. I agree, a hat can make a person feel amazing!
    However, the hat has lost out to the hair product companies, hair salons and convenience.
    Back in the day when running water was not in every household, people would bathe once a week, or perhaps every 2 weeks.
    Hair got washed as infrequently, usually in the tub with the bar soap.
    Lice was common.
    Women who were wives and mothers had little time to devote to their hair. Many had no washers and dryers, vacuums, etc. Going to the hair parlor was a treat for many.
    My grandmother worked very hard in her lifetime. She worked the fields, made the bread, bore the children & was thrilled when she got the convenience of a ringer washer.
    She looked very ordinary in those days. However, on Sunday when she went to church, put on her 1 best dress, donned her white gloves over her rough hands, made her bun up high and pinned on her hat, she became a Contessa!
    Wonderful post! You’ve flooded my memory!
    Thank you

    • Hi Resa. I’d never thought of that, but of course hats offered the “crowning glory” that we try to achieve with our hair now. Indeed, one of the main reasons I don’t wear hats (although I love them) is that I hate getting “hat hair”. Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your enlightening and very thought-provoking comment. Cheers, Su.

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