Coolie, Conical or Non-la?

Is Coolie a derogative term? According to Wikipedia and the Urban dictionary, it is. Why then, is it still used so freely to describe the common conical shaped hat most commonly associated with Asian slaves or Asian manual laborers? I blame Hollywood. The actual hat is a Vietnamese hat called a Non-la.

I go through hat phases, and I am currently looking at the conical hat. The dilemma arises with the fact that what I am calling a conical hat, is more commonly known as a Coolie. So, do I use a term that is considered derogative by some (Coolie), or do I use a term that is less known & understood (Conical), there by causing confusion (I am not referring to a Hennin which is also a conical hat) and reducing the effectiveness of my communication? Finally, do I use Non-la which is the accurate term but is rarely understood?

Language is a living entity. Words are invented, their meanings evolve as was evident in my post about the word Vulgar. Words come into fashion and then out. To have a large vocabulary is an asset allowing you to choose a word that communicates more precisely. In this case a hat shape, commonly referred to as a Coolie clearly brings an image of the Non-la to mind, is offensive to some people? Conical is too vague, a cone does not really capture the essence of the hat shape.

This may seem unconnected, but it is related. I was recently reading some older books. I love the little hard bound short story books. I love the texture of the cover, I enjoy the turning of paper pages, and the smell of an old book. I also enjoy hearing how they communicate with each other, especially between the generations and in courtship. Recently I was reading The Twins, a children’s book by L.E. Tiddeman. There isn’t a publish date, but L.E. Tiddeman died in 1937 and wrote between 1880-1931. In just one short paragraph on page 32, she used the terms, gay, cripple, and nigger. Although I found this shocking, there was no malice, it was purely descriptive.

The terms cripple and nigger are no longer appropriate for common communication. New terms are used that are more sensitive and/or accurate. We have obviously made progress is this area. So, what do I call my Non-la hat? I would prefer to avoid the term Coolie, however I am not sure that very many people know the name Non-la. What would you call it? Would you stay with the commonly recognized term, like Coolie? A vague but inoffensive term like conical? Or, the actual name that is least known – the Non-la?

I recently made a new hat, which I am calling my ‘Non-la inspired conical hat’. Soon I will be adding a new post about making this hat.

I had a brilliant charity shop find of this conical asian hat, but I don’t think it is actually a Non-la. So what do I call it? Here is a link to my A Good Hat Day blog.

The Vulgar, Fear & Creativity

The Vulgar Exhibition, an exhibition that explored the term Vulgar hosted at the Barbican, a brutalist multi-arts and residential center in London. I wanted to see if the exhibit could reveal the magic line between ridiculous/inspiring and vulgar.

I can generally glean a nugget of knowledge, from everything I do and London has really good exhibits from Barbican, The Crime Museum Uncovered, with photos and displays of evidence and their strange stories to the V&A, Alexander McQueen show which I went to at least 5 times and found something new to look at each time, and the recent The Vulgar exhibit which explored the term Vulgar and how it has evolved and different interpretations of the term highlighted through fashion and literature.

Vulgar originated in Latin as Sermo Vulgaris meaning common speech as opposed to the more formal and social dialect of classic Latin. The use of vulgar meaning common has evolved into meaning a lack of good taste or explicit and offensive.

Lack of Good Taste

Sparkly Bra dresses range. This was exactly what I am talking about in this blog post! I love the first one, it is interesting, exciting and inspirational. The all black one is good also. The third pink I think is a bit ridiculous, and there is an element humor as she looks like she is wearing a crown. Finally the last one, I really do not like. I will need to reflect further these to see if I can figure it out. I would love to hear if you have any ideas you have on what makes the first won great and the last one not. Or perhaps you think differently, I’d love to hear that also.

Explicit and Offensive

Rudi Gernreich’s 1960’s Topless swimsuit was so shocking it had to be displayed for exhibit on a wall rather than a mannequin. I don’t actually find it offensive, but I am sure there are some who do.

I fear being seen as lacking in good taste, but I refuse to be restricted to conservative tailored clothing. I must have a bit of an edge to be truly content. However when it comes to designing I often get caught in the trap of wearable, sell-able, and tasteful which can be very limiting.

I had hoped the exhibit would explain/reveal that secret zone that is edgy, exciting and breathtaking without falling over into vulgar. Yes that was a bit much to ask of an hour in an exhibit. To explore the exhibit more take a look at New York Times. However I have a sense that I am closer to my goal, and that it isn’t about a mysterious zone that is agreed upon by everyone but a place within myself which I must explore and ultimately trust.

Now I need to figure out how to banish the fear and the voices, internal and external that judge.

Exploring the fear

I fear the place of mis-aligned, drawn-on eyebrows, crocheted tissue box covers, cheap plastic anything, and ugly sparkly sweaters. Imagine my surprise that here in England there is a deliberate ugly Christmas Jumper tradition.

Exploring the voices that bring fear and doubt. The voices that I recall from my youth that would say, “look at that outfit” with the tone of admiration verses the same phrase with the tone of disgust. How to banish the voices that confine me?

My own experience of revulsion at design and craftsmanship. The earliest I can recall was at the Twin Sisters boutique in San Jose, California. My grandma’s neighbor and her sister created this business venture which was really just a garage sale.

I love flea markets and garage (boot) sales. Amazing treasures can be found for just a bit of money, allowance money when I was a child. So when I was young, while visiting Grammie on a weekend, she said, girls (me and my sister) lets go down to the sale. I had a bit of money to spend, perhaps Grammie gave me a couple of coins, I don’t recall. I was excited with the prospect of a new treasure and supporting Grammie’s friend in her new business.

Grammie, little sister, and I 1970’s

It was awful and I was disappointed. The things she and her sister had made were the most poorly made things I’d ever seen. I truly believed I could do better. Now granted my Mother is a master seamstress, with a good eye for colour and has taught sewing, so perhaps my standards were higher than your average girl of about 7 years old. Grammie insisted that I get something, but there was nothing I felt was worth my few coins. Finally, Grammie gave me an understanding glance and said, “just pick something”, so I chose a tacky lopsided pot holder with crooked stitching and fraying seams.

I fear having someone look at what I make with the horror and revulsion. Intellectually I know this is highly unlikely, but it is a non-rational fear.

A Friend who makes Monsters

Tamara is the most organized person I have ever met, in what appears to be every part of her life.  She manages the household accounts with a masterful use of spreadsheets. She hosts parties where she makes beautiful food and is dressed before the first guest arrived. She works at either a job or her own business, is a mother, wife and considerate daughter. Her personal dress is conservative and classic. And if that isn’t enough she has a hidden side, she makes monsters. The most amazing creative creatures. Usually with sharp teeth or long claws, but they contain a magical balance of whimsy and ugly to equal amazing.

Somewhere in craftsmanship and design is a magical place of beauty. Tamara’s monsters were inherently ugly but in such a sweet way and the attention to detail of each one is superb. Where as even simple square-ish pot holders from Grammie’s neighbor were vulgar.

The Vulgar was an interesting exhibit but it ultimately failed to reveal the secret sweet spot of where the brilliance of creativity and design tips over the top and slides under the bar, into tacky and repulsive. I think there is an element of superb craftsmanship that moves the bar. If the exhibit was still on, I would go again but more slowly the second time.

Hats Included

A bit more about hats and head pieces at The Vulgar exhibit. There were some divine Viennese bonnets from the Wien museum dated 1780-1810. I didn’t find any photos or links.

There was a reference to Sally Victor’s Mondrian style hat which to my delight I saw at the High Style exhibit and the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, May 2015. The Vulgar explored the ideas of imitation. I gathered a few images together featuring the Mondrian style.

Imitation vs. Inspiration

Sally Victor Hat 1962
Piet Mondrian Composition C 1935
Yves St Laurent AW 1965/66


In addition, at The Vulgar there were hats from Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones and a couple more, which I should have written down. Hats were not the focus, they rarely are in exhibits, but I was pleased they at least were given some attention.

The quest in finding my artistic voice continues. I would love to hear about your quest to find your artistic voice.

A Good Hat Day

I love the charity shop hunt. I don’t know if it is the biological hunter/gatherer instinct or a conditioned response from flea markets and garage sales with my father as a girl, but Monday I hunted and gathered.
Conical pointy
This particular Monday brought me to Tooting, London. A name that always brings a smile to this California born girl. There was a charity shop across the street and I had a few minutes before I’d be missed, so I tucked into the shop. It was a gold mine for me. I rarely find hat books at Charity shops, but this was a good day. I discovered a fun book on felting and making hats, Fabulous Felt Hats by Chad Alice Hagen another was a child’s book The Hairy Hat Man’s House by the Letterland Storybooks and just as I was about to leave, high up in the window display was a wonderful conical straw hat. I’ve been on a bit of a Conical (aka Coolie) shaped hat kick lately. My computer desktop is full of images and my pinterest Hats pinboard is all about conicals right now.
Felt and Harry Hat books
A hat and two books later, I return home to discover that the latest edition of The Hat Magazine has arrived! The first thing that must be done is to flip to the back for the Workroom Technique section. This issue is, “How to Work with Feathers” by Edwina Ibbotson and it did not disappoint.
The Hat Magazine Jul:Aug:Sep 2016
In addition to the Monday, Good Hat Day, I’ve had two “finds” and book shops lately. My eldest daughter is a book junkie. She can’t pass a book shop without wanting to go in. And seeing as I am like that with fabric and hat shops, I can’t fault her. So I end up in a lot more book shops that I would on my own. Over the previous week I discovered two books, The Panama Hat Trail by Tom Miller at Travelling Through and Hats by Colin McDowell at Skoob Books. In true Leanne-form, I have started all of them, but the only one I’ve properly read all the way through is….yes, the children’s book. I am a slow reader, so this back log of books should keep me busy for the remainder of the year and into the next.
Hats n Panama Trail books
Back to the “Good Hat Day”, I then went into work, where I work on the computer doing the marketing, social media, website updates, invoicing, and anything else that needs to be done, while surrounded by beautiful hats and intensely creative skilled people. And to top it all off, hat class, where I could work on my own Conical shaped hat. Three layers of sinamay and I’ve wired the edge so far.
conical rounded

AND THAT is a Good Hat Day to me! Have you had a good hat day? Tell me about it in the comments, and sign up for my mailing list.
Good Hat Day

Heads and Tales
by Aage Thaarup

Aage Thaarup book cover image

Heads and Tales by Aage Thaarup is a book I saw at Jane Smith‘s class at Morley College as well as in her workroom, then I saw it referenced in the Forward of Susie Hopkins book, The Century of Hats as part of the forward written by Philip Somerville.  The cover sleeve image alone is enticing enough, but the combination of all three was irresistible. I had to read it.

“I can’t go no lower,” said the Hatter. “I am on the floor as it is. . . .” Alice in Wonderland

It was an intriguing opening quote. It didn’t sound up beat or encouraging. An odd way to start a book.  However by the end of the book, I understood.  The book was first published in 1956 and Aage Thaarup had already experienced a roller coaster ride through starting up a couture millinery business, a World War, money issues and a passion for travel.


The book is a fabulous collection of stories told by Aage Thaarup that conveys not just his experiences and attitudes but it also reflects a different era. There are many of references to Princess Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and other society ladies.

Aage Thaarup (1906–1987) was a Danish-born milliner who ran a celebrated hatmaking business in London from the 1930s up to the 1970s. His hats adorned many famous and beautiful heads.

He made hats for the Queen Mother and her princess daughters, later one of them would become Queen.
queen mother in Aage design

A young Queen Elizabeth needed a hat for Trouping the Colour, which is the queen’s official birthday, not to be confused with her actual birthday (earlier this week – 21 April 1926). This would become arguably his most famous hat.

young queen trouping the colours

What I enjoyed about the book was Mr. Thaarup’s determination and resilience.  Although money management was not one of his strengths.

He was creative, resourceful and brave. Heads and Tales was written while he was trying to recover from his second round of bankruptcy.  He describes how low he was at the time, which clarified why he choose the opening Alice in Wonderland quote I mentioned above.

He seemed to cultivate a good relationship with the press as well as clients and could design with different ends in mind, some for  attention and some for beauty.

Aage Thaarup hat on model

Vogue cover feb 1949

Being from California, I believe California’s generally align with Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Sacramento. I am from the San Jose Bay Area, also known as Silicon Valley and the small(ish) coastal town of Santa Cruz and although I am not from San Francisco, I feel like it is my representative Californian city, and thus felt a sense of pride when I encountered the following quote on page 204.

“I flew back to San Francisco, where people were polite, where the waiters side “Thank you”, and everybody was rather nicely dressed, as befits a city with a soul.”

Other places to see Aage Thaarup and his hats are the V&A as well as some British Pathe films.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has a few Aage Thaarup pieces. They have much of their collection online which is an extremely useful reference.

Pink Velvet Hat by Aage Thaarup from the V&A Collection.

Aage Thaarup in V&A pink velvet

Daisy hat by Aage Thaarup in the V&A Collection.Aage Thaarup hat in V&A collection daisy

British Pathe films – Aage Thaarup designs a hat to look like Royal Albert Hall on British Pathe.

Which seems odd, until you read his book and realize that for a while he was popular for making hats resembling landmarks after doing a hat resembling the Rangitoto volcano while visiting New Zealand.

Aage Thaarup British Pathe

There are several more British Pathe Movies of Aage Thaarup. They are just a couple of minutes and good fun to watch.

In summary, Heads and Tales was an easy read mostly told through anecdotes about travels, clients, WWII, and millinery. It is a reflection of his journey from a small boy in Denmark to a couture milliner in London, starting over again in 1956. It was interesting, educational and inspiring.

When asked which is his favorite hats, “My favourite hat — is the hat I am going to make tomorrow .”

and remember…Interesting people wear hats.

50 Hats that Changed the World – Book Review – HA3

50 Hats That Changed The World
by Design Museum, published in 2011

HA3 50 Hats

HA3 – 50 Hats is 10:41 in length, scroll down to see some text and images that go with this podcast.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a great combination of lovely pictures and short paragraphs packed with information. The writing is accessible but also requires a bit of a stretch for my vocabulary.

Hats have three possible purposes, protection, symbolic and aesthetic. I like how the books finds a balance between these three factors. It highlights how a hat is often meshed with the wearers identity. This may be on of the reasons for the decline in hat wearing after WWII combined with a general trend toward informality. I don’t know if Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones, or Noel Stewart were influential in this book, but they all got a rather prominent shout out early on.

There was an interesting quote from the book, “Everything around us is designed.” This quote seems appropriated as the book is written by the “Design” Museum, but personally I think most things more often evolve.

With a broad stroke overview, the book is heavily weighted in the 1900’s by deferring several shapes into the 1900’s, such as the bicorne which was a hat commonly worn by captains and pirates. However the first hat was an impressive crown from 1300’s, but it then skips ahead 400 years to 1789 and Marie Antoinette’s milliner. Nine well known hat shapes were highlighted for the 1800’s and a whooping 32 of the 50 hats were allocated into the 1900’s. Reasonably only 7 hats were saved for 2000’s.
monomakh cap

It must have been a rather daunting task to try to distill the entire history of hats into just 50 and also how to order them to be relevant and interesting. In general I think the book is fantastic, but bringing some of the older hat styles into the current times is misleading, such as the tweed flat cap has been around for 400+ years but doesn’t get a mention until the year 2000.

Areas that I really did like were the discussion about the Bowler, introduced in 1848. I was particularly thrilled to learn it was originally made by James Lock & Co.. It was commissioned by Edward Coke for his gamekeepers to protect their heads from low branches and was designed by Thomas and William Bowler. This was exciting for me because for London Hat Week in 2014, I went on a tour of James Lock and Co. on St. James Street in London. If you get a chance, it is a lovely store. The people were delightful and the hats and history are unmatched. The ladies hats are upstairs and designed by Sylvia Fletcher. I’ve not met Ms. Fletcher but one of the ladies that works there, Claire Strickland, is a really talented milliner. I met her last year at London Hat Week. Take a look at some of her amazing creativity at

bowlers I love

There is a lot of history involved with the bowler, which is called a Derby in the USA. One element I learned about while in college, which is hat the Bolivian women wear a bowler as part of their traditional clothes.
bolivian bowler

The Balaclava was a term I’d heard, but it was nice to see a picture and be able to see the spelling for the hat that I’d always referred to as a ski mask. Luckily my ski gear is all over the house right now, so I was able to do a “selfie” of my balaclava.

Ready for the slopes?!


The Victorian Bonnet is fascinating with a huge amount of variation in shape, style and trimming. It was validating that it was mentioned as I’ve been working on making a strip straw Victorian bonnet for several weeks now. It is slow going, but I hope to have photos for the blog soon.

victorian bonnet 2

I didn’t like the mesh floppy hat by Maria Blaisse for Issey Miyake. I thought is was just a piece of sinamay that was tied with a string on a wooden head. The only redeeming element of this entry was that this may have represented the introduction of sinamay as a new material in the millinery world. Sinamay was introduced to Australia in 1990, so perhaps the 1987 introduction of the “Mesh Floppy Hat” was a big deal based off materials no necessarily its design. Sinamay is a straw type fibre from the Abaca tree, a member the banana palm family and it is pervasive in the world of millinery.

One of the great things about this books was that I learned about people I’d never heard of, such as Alice O’Reilly, who was the milliner for Cecil Beaton, who designed the hats for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.
My Fair Lady - Alice OReilly Milliner

And Lindy Hemmings who designed the large black hat, worn by Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral. That wide brimmed hat was made by Herald and Heart in London, here is a short video about this famous hat.

4weddings black hat

In addition to learning about new people, I also learned more about people that I have heard of such as Philip Sommerville. The Millinery community was saddened last November (2014) with the passing of Philip Sommerville. I knew he was a very well accomplished milliner and that many current London based milliners apprenticed with him, but I didn’t know he’d made hats for Diana, Princess of Wales. All of this made me excited all over again with a new (to me) hat block that was from Philip Sommerville’s collection at one time. I have a beautiful beret that is 1/2 done, waiting for the trimming, that I made from his old block.

I adored the second to last hat. I was Aretha Franklin’s grey felt, that she wore for the inauguration of Barack Obama. It was lovely, but I am not sure it qualifies as one of the 50 Hats that Changed the World. But it certainly was a momentous day for many people as the US inaugurated it’s first black president.


Noel Stewart finishes off the hat line up, but it is his quote that caught my attention, “People often draw parallels with sculpture and fashion, but in the case of millinery, it’s a genuine love match.” I like it.

I borrowed my book from the library, but I wish I’d bought it as an easy reference.

This post was originally planned to be posted in conjunction with the movie release of 50 Shades of Grey, as I thought the similarity between the 50 shades and the 50 hats was funny. However our family had a last minute opportunity to go skiing in the French Alps for a few days, and I’ll admit that I dropped everything to dust off the ski gear for a chance for a skiing adventure. Thus it is a week later than planned.

The book was better than I expected. It was interesting and informative with plenty of eye candy.

Three new words for me.

“Leitmotif of the queens style” – recurring musical idea which is associated with a particular idea, character or place.

“the classic Ska uniform” – music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950’s.

“Vivienne Westwood’s elective oevure” – the body of work of a painter, composer, or author.

Iconic Heads by House of Flora by Neil Moodie, 2003. I am pretty sure I saw this piece in the Museum of Decorative Arts