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Video Video: Hat collection spices up online classes

September 23, 2020

Video by Joel Rondon PuJols

One can tire of staring at talking heads all day in online meetings and classes.

But Jennifer Angus, professor of Design Studies in the School of Human Ecology, found that spicing up the screen is as easy as the hat on her head.

Angus has drawn on her deep and varied collection of pillbox hats to give students a fresh surprise each time they join her online classes. She answered some questions about her hat project:

How did you come up with this strategy to spice up the world of virtual meetings and classes ?

I was in a virtual meeting with Amy Gilman, the director of the Chazen Museum of Art. There was a little down time and we got talking about what to wear and that we needed more shirts for these types of meetings since there’s no need to dress up in your own home but you still want to look presentable. As a person who teaches textile design, I have a lot of scarves, but it was too hot to be wearing them. It occurred to me in another era it was quite acceptable to wear a hat indoors so why not now? With my head the most prominent feature in these meetings I might as well take advantage and wear a hat.

Has it effectively made virtual classes more fun?

I like to think so. Most of my students are the Textile and Fashion Design major and I think they look forward to seeing what I’ll be wearing.

Where in the world did you get all those hats?

My first two hats I had owned for awhile and got them in antique stores but with the pandemic I’ve purchased the rest on Ebay and Etsy.

Do they draw any comments or reactions from students?

The hats have the thumbs up emoji on Zoom. They appreciate that they’re vintage and most of my students are interested in fashion history as well as sustainability and so it’s always best to buy used.

What’s next — are you still trying to expand the collection? Any particular hats you’re looking for?

I will have 20 hats once my latest purchase arrives. They’re inexpensive to collect because unless they have a big designer name, they’re just odd artifacts that no one knows what to do with. I only collect pillbox hats from the 1950s and they must be entirely feather covered. The first hat in my collection had pheasant feathers painstakingly put into a pattern. I was really struck by how this hat was headdress-like, similar to  what I had seen in photographs of people living in the jungles of the Amazon and Papua New Guinea. I was really curious about their history. So far I’ve found out quite a bit about the shape of the hat (military reference) but less about the inclination to cover them with feathers. In the Victorian era it was very popular to use the feathers of exotic birds on women’s hats — in fact so popular it threatened several species! In the 50s the feathers were either pheasant or chicken. I still keep my eyes open for different colors or pattern combinations. Anyone who collects something knows it’s an addiction! You’re always on the look out!