Shrinking violets blossom under hats

No one would ever call my gardening attire stylish. I pull weeds and divide perennials while wearing my scruffiest jeans or even polyester pants circa 1978. Usually they're topped by free T-shirts emblazoned with advertising slogans. In a green shirt that's shouting "Grow Power" and orange pants sagging at the knees, I'm comfortable and ready to dig in the dirt - but hardly a fashion plate.

Still, one summer I succumbed to the siren song of garden hats. On a garden tour, I realized I was paying less attention to phlox and petunias than to hats worn by the other women.

Beige straw hats bedecked with delicate silk roses. Chartreuse open-weave hats encircled by bands of grosgrain ribbon in rainbow hues. I was captivated by the romantic image of luxury and leisure they conjured up.

Fantasizing about dropping by Buckingham Palace for a garden party, I set out to find the perfect chapeau. Like the hat-shop customers in today's cover story (see right), I discovered you have to scrutinize scores of hats to find the right one. Narrow brims, floppy brims, hats trimmed with hand-painted posies, demure, tacky - I tried them all.

The next day, I self-consciously placed the hat I'd chosen atop my head, pulled on slacks and a shirt that lived up to my new image, and went out to trim the hedge. A passing neighbor stopped her car to say, "Nice hat." I grinned, no longer a shrinking violet. But I'm still waiting for that invitation from Queen Elizabeth. If it comes, it will be a wonderful excuse to go hat shopping again.

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