Teaching in Russia 2: Hats

I don’t remember having many hats as a child, but there’s one that particularly sticks in my memory:  it was a white, fluffy beret with a pompom on the top and a red and navy stripe round the rim, and I hated it.   I hated it, not only because it was made of stuff that made my head itch, but also because I was made to wear the hat by my mother, and so it became a symbol of the power struggle between her and my 5-year-old-self.  These days, apart from at weddings and funerals, a hat is a comparatively rare sight in the UK, where I come from: as a rule, the relatively mild climate there means that warm headgear may not be required to survive the winter.  Even if it was, many of the younger generation have discarded this item of clothing as a wussy object worn only by those still tied to their mothers’ apron strings.  Not wearing a hat has become an act of rebellion, and a sign that, however low the temperature, you’re hard enough to cope with it.

In a Russian winter, it’s not possible to have such scruples.  It’s painful enough having to leave your face exposed at -20, so going bareheaded is out of the question. And anyway, anyone who dares take such a risk is likely to suffer a fate worse than frostbite: a dressing-down from a passing babushka.  So it is that the Russian population – women in particular – embrace the hat and celebrate it in all its different forms.  Walking the streets here you will see a vast array of different styles, shapes and materials, with fur (another novelty for the average Brit) by far the favourite.  Buying a hat is a serious business, and simply plonking the hat on your head and admiring yourself in the shop mirror just won’t do: any hat shop assistant worth her salt will fuss around you, tweaking the hat at various points so as to get exactly the right look.

Since arriving here, I have made something of a hobby of studying the different types of hats and head coverings worn by my hosts, and have found that they can be more or less divided into 4 looks: the pompom, the Davy Crockett, the Banana Split and the Romantic Heroine.

The pompom is round and fluffy, and should ideally increase the circumference of your head by at least 5 centimetres and give it the appearance of, well, a rather large pompom.  The Davy Crockett may well resemble the pompom, but for added interest a number of tassels, smaller pompoms or even the odd animal’s paw will have been attached to the top or back of the hat.  This gives that hat its distinctive resemblance to Davy Crockett’s famed raccoon tail hat.  Our third type is the famed Russian ‘earflap’ hat.  This can be a modest affair, such as those worn by army officers and policemen with the earflaps neatly tied on top.  However, the more extravagant version has huge earflaps, often left untied so that they flip out on each side of the wearer’s head.  The wearers thus bear a startling resemblance to the droopy-eared singing dog in the children’s show, the Banana Splits. (Those with time on their hands may check out www.bananasplits.com to make the comparison).  Our final look is easily the most glamorous: the Romantic Heroine wears a flowing fur coat, her face fetchingly framed by the hood – all in all, a look not dissimilar to Meryl Streep’s in ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’.

Of course, with the arrival of spring the hats are being put away for a few short months, but I look forward to next winter when hat season will be with us once again.

dscf0202The author attempts, albeit unsuccessfully, to model the romantic heroine look.

This article first appeared on www.e1.ru, the Ekaterinburg city website.

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