Some of them are worth keeping, like stuffing and cranberry sauce whenever turkey is served, traditional champagne on anniversaries, grilled jalapenos with steaks… traditional beer & pretzels with American Football, and popcorn on movie night. Like hotdogs at a baseball game or cotton candy and smoked turkey legs at a fair, we all have those sacred customs we observe, most of which involve food, as you may have gathered. Well, we are American, after all.
When we relocated to the UK, I knew that England was steeped in centuries old tradition and that I was probably going to have to adopt a few just to fit in with the natives. I had read my share of romance novels set on fictitious estates in such exotic places as Yorkshire and Kent, and felt I had a pretty good handle on the class system and Great British Tradition. In the world of the romance novel, butlers were always snobs, Americans were always misunderstood mavericks, and straight-toothed British noblemen were always willing to throw caution to the wind and marry the stunningly beautiful but penniless commoner (preferably an American) to further the family line and pee off the evil relatives… Ok, so maybe I had a few things to learn. Butlers can actually be quite friendly… Hey, I watch Downton.
What I discovered, however, was that the biggest difference between the Brits and the Yanks is the focus of our tradition.
For Americans it is all about the food.
For the British, it is all about the hats!
Frankly, I love that the Scottish Guard wear bearskin hats and that the police here still wear those crazily impractical tall helmets. I love that the Queen wears a crown and that barristers wear wigs in court.
But most of all, I love the tradition of wearing hats to horse races and weddings.
I have always loved the drama of a big hat. Who could forget Scarlett O’Hara’s hats in “Gone With the Wind?”
Or Andie MacDowell’s enormous black millinery masterpiece from “Four Weddings and a Funeral?” It was so magnificently glamorous one could completely forgive her inability to act. (Also, the really, really bad language!) And for those of you who watched the Royal Wedding on TV, you know – you KNOW – that hats come in all shapes and sizes! Ok, so there were a few expensive clangers adorning some pretty famous heads, but for the most part, wasn’t it a beautiful spectacle?
Now, my American friends, can I just make a disclaimer here? Before you rush off to join your local “Red Hat Society,” please know this is not necessarily what I am advocating. I am sure they do some fine charitable work – we are not bashing the Red Hat**.
However, there is a vast difference between this scene
…and this one!
Please… by all means, adopt the tradition of wearing hats and fascinators to weddings! But please bear this in mind: In England, there are whole stores dedicated to the rental of expensive millinery. Nobody but the Queen can afford to buy her own hats.
Hiring a hat for a wedding or for Ascot is a bit like renting a tux for a wedding. Nobody expects you to buy it – it is a one-day affair, so why not split the cost?
My friends, a cheap hat just looks… well, cheap.
Feature photo: Darling Daughter and me at a family wedding, Summer 2007.
Originally posted 13 April 2014
**Actually, the first time I ran this piece, I did hear directly from the Red Hatters, who did not appreciate my post much – sorry, gals. No harm intended! I am well aware that it is all about fun and sisterhood… and the sense of humour! This Mother Hen is all about the love!
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