Hats off to classic style

Kristyn Schiavone
Tribune Content Agency

I love hats, and I miss the days when people actually dressed up on a regular basis. I marveled at the hats at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and decided that perhaps when I get married I, too, will require all of my guests to wear a fancy chapeau. But hats are just not a popular accessory anymore.

Hats mat your hair down, so you really have to commit to wearing your hat all day or all night. It's often difficult to find something to do with your hat if you take it off, and you might feel conspicuous in it because you're one of the only people wearing one.

There are really only two occasions when you want a hat: when it's snowing or when you're out in excessive sunlight (e.g., on vacation).

I've been known to forego a hat when it's snowing. However, I do wear a hat on vacation because my head has been known to sunburn.

Prior to a vacation in Hawaii, I bought a beautiful Panama hat. It was white with a black stripe at the brim. But because I didn't wear it the entire time while en route, and had to do things like put it on the security check conveyor belt, it got a little squished. I steamed it, which revived its shape a bit, but then it rained while I was wearing it and it was promptly ruined.

I spent a decent amount of money on that hat, as hats go, and wore it twice. It was a high-quality hat but, as it turns out, not that functional. So I am going to take what may be a controversial stand on hats: Cheap is the way to go.

This time, en route to Mexico, I'm toting a much more travel-friendly hat, and I put a considerable amount of effort into shopping for it. Here are some of my findings:

1. Visit the hat department of large department stores. Places like Macy's and Nordstrom still have a hat department.

You may be tempted to purchase a vacation hat you find at J.Crew. It's pictured with all the other resort wear, looking super chic. Plus, it's a one-stop shop. But no matter how stylish it is, this hat may not serve your purpose. It may not fit you perfectly, and it may be more expensive than other hats because it's the only hat this particular store carries.

At a store with a hat department, there's a great selection and it's much easier to find something suited to your needs. It's also much easier to find size, style and color variation.

2. Find a hat that is "packable." Losing that Panama hat was one of the great disappointments of my fashion life, but it should not have been unexpected. I could tell from the get-go that the hat was not going to fit properly in a suitcase, which left me carrying it around to get all mangled.

Some manufacturers like Nine West actually carry a line of packable hats. The tag alerts you to the fact that the hat can be folded and won't lose its shape. If a hat isn't labeled, you should be able to tell whether it's "packable" if it's stiff to the touch.

3. There is no need to spend more than $50. The materials used to make beach hats, such as straw, are overall pretty cheap. If you're paying more than $50, you're either getting a really fancy hat that you shouldn't risk getting splashed at the pool, or you're paying for a brand name that nobody else will ever see.

4. One size sometimes does not fit all. Sizes can vary greatly depending on the manufacturer. Pay attention to the fit. This is critical, because if the thing is always falling down and getting in your eyes, you'll never wear it.

5. Hats are one of the most timeless accessories, and the best ones are classics. Sure, go for the hot pink fedora if you really want to, but nothing beats the look of something like a simple, wide-brim straw hat. It is effortlessly chic.