Everyday Hats of Paris

While there is a Paris of high fashion, there is also the Paris of everyday life. And what could be more everyday (quotidien) than dry cleaning or having a dress or pair of pants altered?

This little bellhop with his pillbox hat shows you where you can get your clothes dry cleaned (le pressing) or altered (la couture). It might not be haute couture, but it helps us meet our daily needs.

School is part of everyday life. So are crossing guards. We have them in Toronto, but they don’t at all measure up to this one in the Marais. The hat. The hat. You are supposed to be looking at the hat. Yes, nice stockings too. I wonder if the other side of the “Stop Ecole” sign says “Arrêt School”?

French children seem to have lots of time out of school and Paris is richly endowed with playgrounds and parks for them. This little guy and his friends were having a marvellous time. They climbed on colourful equipment, pushed empty strollers around, waddled about in warm clothes (including hats such as this), and above all embodied the magic of childhood.

On a late November day, I emerged from the subdued interior of the Centre Pompidou. Outside, the movement, the crowds, and the colours were dazzling. A flash of light caught my eye. For the next few minutes, the concrete slabs were a stage for the quiet, studied movements of a young scooter rider in a world all of his or hers alone. And yes there was a hat. It was a bicycle helmet (casque). I understand the Brits call them “crash hats” and I have also heard the term “skid lids.”

Perhaps in a few years the youngster will have a bigger two-wheeler and a more avant-garde safety helmet such as the one below. Did you notice the belt drive on this bicycle? It is a folding bike. I wonder who made it.

Maybe I could get a bicycle like that for Christmas. But all I really want for Christmas is to be in Paris and not in Toronto. There is so much less non-stop, force-fed, clichéd jolliness in Paris. It is less in-your-face, more meaningful and done so much more imaginatively. Look at the Galeries Lafayette window below.

I so much like this photo because it conveys the confusing magic I associate with Paris. I am also impressed by the red railing in the lower right.

As I look at this photo and those below, I think the world has much to learn from a country where a department store creates a special walk-up elevated viewing area for the children. It gives them their own front-row view of magic and possibility.

It is not just the children who adore the Christmas window displays. I keep coming back to the joyful animation in this Bon Marché Christmas window. And the lady beneath the hat? She is the one who introduced me to Paris. We both bought hats from the same hat maker at a craft market on the Boulevard Edgar Quinet.

And here is the one I bought for myself, taken at the hat stall in the market. I was just starting to grow a beard at the time, hence the stubble.

Pick up a travel or tourist article about Paris, and chances are you will find exhortations to visit the flea markets. They are worth going to. I met the lady shown below at the Porte de Vanves flea market at the very edge of the city. Cross over the Périphérique and you are in the suburban commune of Malakoff, not in Paris.

As with much that one finds in the Porte de Vanves flea market, the lady, her hat, and her pearls have a certain faded and dated elegance.

Back in the heart of the city, the hatted lady below stood out as if alone amongst the many, her eyes almost looked through me and her lips seemed alive. I waited for them to move.

One very rarely sees berets in Paris. It is not like in the old movies, where happy accordionists and stevedores all sport berets and smoke cigarettes that seem glued to their lower lips. This accordionist was very happy. Yes, as everyone should, we paid him for his joyful music. Bringing us joy is his job and he does it very well. And somehow the baseball cap seemed right. Paris has a rich historical heritage to which one returns and re-explores, but it is also a city of the present, a city that offers surprises. I want Paris to keep surprising me. A beret wouldn’t do the job.

Text and photographs by Norman Ball.

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About Parisian Fields

Parisian Fields is the blog of two Toronto writers who love Paris. When we can't be there, we can write about it. We're interested in everything from its history and architecture to its graffiti and street furniture. We welcome comments, suggestions, corrections, and musings from all readers.
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4 Responses to Everyday Hats of Paris

  1. Norman, We love your stuff! The hat… the hat….
    Now be sure that you and Philippa get to Paris for Christmas, and that you come visit us in Tours.
    Paul and Josette Davenport

  2. Kiki says:

    incredible post – especially love the last bit of it…. Also stood for ages in front of those windows, eyes full of wonder, just like the kids, small and tall! :)

  3. Ken Bowes says:

    Well done Norman! Yes, I wonder who makes those belt-drive folders??

  4. Love it. My aunt was a milliner and thus my mother put us in hats since we were very small.
    Yes ,I have had many berets which I always lost. I also have had more than one or two poor boys like the one that Norman is wearing and I covet his very much because of the gorgeous color and large proportions.
    At present I am searching for a corduroy poorboy.
    I loved the bit about the special railing for children to view the Christmas windows.

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