Brand building through storytelling

The hat that got away

I wasn’t looking for a hat when I spotted the hat of my dreams while shopping in New York with my friend Jane. Everything about it was perfect: the whimsical tilt of the brim, the silk rose on the crown, the way it framed my face as if the hat gods had created it for me.

I swiveled before the mirror while Jane urged me on. The hat cost as much as a hard-working jacket, maybe even a suit from the sale rack. “I can’t afford it,” I sighed. Returning the hat to its velvet stand, I felt a pang of loss so profound that nothing could console me except another hat with a flower on the crown. I chose one on the spot. But when a car ran over the less expensive hat, I didn’t miss it.

I did miss the hat that got away. I kept looking for one just like it—and for what I’ve blown on pale substitutes, I could have had the real deal. Meanwhile Jane keeps saying, every time we go shopping, “Remember that fabulous hat? I should have talked you into it.”

Every woman knows the pull of desire for an item so alluring, it seems to whisper in her ear, “I’m yours.” An infamous minority are so easily seduced, they have umpteen dozen cute slingbacks and no money left for the rent. But the women I meet are made of stronger stuff. Tempted by a personal indulgence, they’ll pass because they “can’t afford it.”

Yet, they can afford to spend on other people—a new TV for the family room, brand-name gear for the kids in their lives. And when they do treat themselves to something irresistible, they use the same guilt-ridden language they apply to second helpings of chocolate pecan pie: they’ve been “bad.”

It’s a woman’s habit, this reluctance to spend on ourselves. I have yet to meet a man who thinks that scouring the sales is a good use of his time, much less one who’d tell his buddies at the gym where to find a hot deal on polo shirts. When men talk shopping, they talk cars. They feel entitled to spend what’s in the bank, as long as the basics are covered, because they weren’t raised to put other people first.

Women need to be reminded that we’re “worth it,” to quote a long-running hair colour slogan. Aren’t we worth something bigger than cosmetics now and then? I can finally answer, “Yes.” But it’s taken a few decades. My mother, an ace bargain hunter, maintained that no responsible woman will spend on herself what she could spend on her kids or her parents. I can’t break this rule without hearing her voice in my head, deploring my extravagance.

When I didn’t buy the hat, I came to realize that I’d been taking shopping tips from my mother, who died in the shoulder-pad era, instead of my savvy friend Jane. I’m wiser now. If Jane’s not around, I’ve found the change-room crowd to be surprisingly trustworthy (nothing like undies and three-way mirrors to foster absolute honesty).

Cheered on by a bevy of strangers, I once bought a second-skin cashmere sweater that seemed way too pricey. But every time I slip it on, or even see it nestled in my closet, I feel a surge of pure pleasure. Not just because it makes me feel beautiful, but because the choice to buy it was more than fashion decision. It gave me a sense of closure. I did something I wanted to do, that my mother would never have allowed herself to do, and life went on.

There are women so cosseted by wealth, they never have to ask, “Can I afford it?” The new Mrs. Donald Trump, with her $30,000 Dior wedding gown and $1.5 million ring, can buy out a sweater store any time she wants. But how special is anything to those who have everything?.

I’ve come to appreciate the mindfulness of choosing one purchase rather than another—and the pleasure of remembering exactly why I chose it. In London recently, I found a hat that I loved—nothing like the New York hat, but just as beautiful and costly. I knew that if I didn’t buy the hat, I’d be sorry. Life is too short for that. When I wear the London hat, I know I’ve well and truly grown up. And I no longer miss the one that got away.

First published in Chatelaine as “Hat trick,” June, 2005. Copyright by Rona Maynard.

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